British Association for American Studies


60 Seconds With Zalfa Feghali

The U.S. Studies Online 60 Seconds interview feature offers a short and informal introduction to a postgraduate, academic or non-academic specialist working in the American and Canadian Studies field or a related American and Canadian Studies association. 

Last month you spent 60 seconds with the U. S. Studies Online Editorial team. This month we have invited the Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies, our parent organisation, to tell us a little bit more about themselves, their interests, the way they made it into academia and, crucially, their top advice for new academics.


Where are you right now?
On the couch.

If you could time-travel to observe one moment in the history of America, where would you go?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot – but I think I’ll go with my initial thought: anytime in pre-contact North America, preferably near what is now the US-Mexico and Canada-US borders.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Oh gosh. Initially I thought of a bunch of my favourite literary narrators, which is typically pretentious of me. I have no idea. Am I cooking for this dinner party? That probably changes the answer…

You’re stranded on a desert island, but luckily you pre-empted it. Which book do you take with you?

The Crying of Lot 49. My trusty copy of The BFG. Or an encyclopedia! Definitely loads of notebooks. My Kindle? That isn’t one book. Sorry.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Probably the phone call offering me my current job. It was a horrifyingly wonderful moment.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

Unfortunately, ECR is often understood to be shorthand for unemployed academic. That’s (obviously) rubbish and can be really reductive, since it divides ECRs up rather than focuses on what common experiences they might have. What ECR actually means is that you’re way more energetic and enthusiastic than many academics you’ll encounter (that will sometimes include other ECRs). Being an ECR, like pretty much any stage in academia, I guess, invites you to live with a personality paradox. You need a pretty big ego (to keep doing your work even though you’re busy because you know it’s good, to handle rejection, to deal with people asking if you’ve found a job yet, to deal with stuffy professors being silly and condescending) and you also need to balance this with being humble enough to ask for help (and accept it) at any and all junctures, as well as being really organised, all the time. Seriously though: ask for help, remember you’re not alone.

What is the most exciting thing you have planned in the next six months?

Not marking! But seriously, I’m going to be spending some time at the British Library this summer, which I’m very excited about. We’re also going on holiday in parts of July and August, which should be pretty nice.

How did you come to your current area of research?

That would involve me knowing what my current area of research is! The project I’m going to be working on over the summer is about borders, numbers/counting, and indigeneity in North America. I guess I’ve always been interested in borders and citizenship, coming from two countries (Lebanon and Cyprus) where those relationships are so fraught. My focus on Native North America has just always made sense.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

I’ve been a teacher for so long that I can’t imagine doing anything else – 12 years has been enough time to lose interest in other professions. If anything, I think it would be quite cool to work in a professional kitchen. You work really hard but get loads of finished product to feel proud of.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

About three days, as I’ve just finished TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, which was just so good I had to ration it. The pile also includes books I’m rereading like Winter in the Blood (James Welch) and a couple of Roberto Bolaño’s shorter works.

What’s in your fridge right now?

From memory (because I don’t feel like getting up): coriander, ham, cheese, courgettes, two kinds of hot sauce, jalapeños, milk, and a defrosting chicken.