American, British, and Transatlantic Modernism
Harlem Renaissance Novels of Passing
American Expatriate literature
19th Century American literature: Romanticism, Naturalism, Realism,
Women’s Literature / Women and/in Literature
Racial, Class, Gender, and Sexual Passing
Women’s and Gender Studies
Theories of the Body & Embodiment
Fashion History & Theory: Sartorial Modernism, Sartorial Display, Aesthetics, Mannequins
Dandyism: the Dandy Figure in history, literature, and art
Aestheticism and Decadence
Consumption and Consumerism in literature
Working Class Literature–Working Class Studies
My commitment to higher education is rooted in my desire to inspire student curiosity and to guide their creativity and critical engagement in reading, thinking, writing, and collaboration. I view my classes as forums for the exchange of multiple and diverse ideas, perspectives, and experiences. I include material that represents diverse voices and viewpoints so students can imagine, encounter, and engage with perspectives that, while different from their own, produce a greater understanding of the issues and ideas they encounter in our classroom and in the world outside of its walls. Thoughtful selection of course material and crafting multi-modal and digital writing assignments enable me to be inclusive of students with different learning styles and learning needs, while still challenging them to think more critically about how social, cultural, literary, political, gender, racial, etc. contexts help us create, understand, and evolve our identities and communities, and to better recognize when we limit, devalue, or oppress the identities of “others.”
Education and learning have less value if they remain contained within a critical or pedagogical vacuum. If we imagine critical and pedagogical methods as a Venn Diagram, in examining the site of intersection and focusing on how, whether, and where different components overlap, we can offer our students a more pedagogically inclusive environment in which they can practice the interpretive and critical strategies they need to navigate various texts they encounter. With this in mind, and in order to demonstrate the richness of the literature I teach, I situate the literary works we study within the social, cultural, political, and historical contexts that shaped and produced them. An interdisciplinary focus makes a text more relevant, and helps students makes discoveries that connect to their own experiences. Studying a work from within particular cultural or social or aesthetic milieu, historical moment, or authorial influence—as well as putting it in conversation with other historical or contemporary texts—provides students with a more complete and complex understanding of how to read and interpret, as well as with insights about how or why we may have misread or ignored certain texts and authors in the past. I utilize a New Critical method of close reading to guide students as they learn to interpret and analyze texts because it offers a starting point in promoting the kind of insightful, critical engagement we can expand upon by then introducing other methodologies of reading or interpretation, such as feminist criticism or reader response.
Since I view the classroom as a student-centered space, I provide students with a certain degree of choice about readings and assignments. With my guidance and support, students choose paper and project topics, as well as which course texts to want to write about. I often ask students to imagine creative, hybrid, and multimodal ways—beyond and in addition to traditional essays and research papers—to demonstrate their learning. I find that a combination of modeling, guiding, and encouraging analytical independence produces positive outcomes: increased intellectual curiosity, engagement with course material and peers, cultural awareness, enhanced confidence, and even empowerment, all of which contribute to the process of making learning new knowledge and skills not only more accessible, but also more meaningful.
I stress the importance of understanding and practicing writing as a process rather than a product, and require students to write multiple drafts of writing assignments, to which I respond, in dialogue with their ideas, to guide their revision. In this way, I enter into an ongoing conversation with students about their work. My classes provide many opportunities for students to share their work with their peers in on-line discussions, in blogs and other on-line writing workshops, and in group/class activities like collaborative narratives and four-cornered debates. Intellectual games can be a fun and practical, utilitarian way to teach particular writing skills. When teaching transitions, for example, I invite students to participate in a textual version of the collaborative artistic activity practiced by the Surrealists known as the “Exquisite Corpse.” The resulting collaborative writing exercise asks them to co-create an ongoing narrative with limited knowledge of sentences that precede their contribution. This activity requires that students pay close attention to narrative, writing, and language at the levels of diction, semantics, syntax, connotation and denotation, logic, and tone—it’s also quite fun. Practicing mindfulness and attentiveness to semantic and syntactic meaning shifts effectively in a collaborative composition translates to individual writing, so that students become better readers of their own prose. Another activity, a four-cornered debate, first introduced to me by the late Wayne Booth, guides students away from reductive, binary dualisms in argument, and models instead how to qualify, contextualize, and complicate claims, motives, and stance positions in arguments and counter-arguments.
While students do write in more traditional, scholarly forms characteristic of college writing, I also invite them to imagine multiple and creative ways to demonstrate their learning. I find that this openness to alternative assignments is not only inclusive, but also empowers students, promotes greater intellectual curiosity, and encourages them to assume ownership of writing in ways that make learning meaningful. Having the option of writing multimodal versions of assignments also reinforces the processes of learning and writing, while helping students understand that they write for real audiences—an aspect of writing that ultimately helps them find greater motivation and meaning in the learning process and more value in the work they produce.
My teaching continually evolves to make better use of technology and digital pedagogies to provide greater access to and to create enumerable ways to work with a variety of course material, from still and moving images to text-based resources. Having greater access to technology makes the writing process more accessible and, therefore, more inclusive. Greater use of technology and digital pedagogies offers more ways for students to participate, both in class, online, and outside of class. The relationship that I foster with students is reciprocal. My courses evolve in more productive and inclusive ways because every semester I incorporate student invaluable feedback about what they have learned, the readings they found insightful, activities that promoted critical thinking, and assignments that encouraged them to best express their understanding, or incorporate their personal experience or point of view. Such reciprocity facilitates a productive student-teacher relationship, which has contributed significantly to my pedagogical evolution as a teacher of writing and of literature.
As an important proponent of educational and cultural literacy, teaching is an important form of advocacy. Our advocacy keeps humanism at the core of the liberal arts and humanities in education. From within intellectually engaged environments like university classrooms, such advocacy pursues our goal that future generations of students become discerning, intellectually enlightened, actively engaged, service and community-minded citizens, rather than passive, complacent, materialistic, worker consumers.
As a teacher of both literature and writing, I am interested in current research about developing inclusive pedagogies in writing courses and undergraduate general education courses. My scholarly research interests lie at the intersection of material culture, the commodification of identity, the body, fashion and sartoriality, and literature/literary studies, and are informed by my background in 19th/20th-century American and African-American literature, literary theory, visual culture, modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, novels of passing, gender and sexuality studies, women’s studies, aestheticism and dandyism, flånerie, and working class studies. My work investigates intentional (rather than incidental) references to clothing and dress, sartorial emulation, strategies of sartorial display—like passing or dandyism—department store virtual merchandising, shopping, consumerism, and mannequins. Recent published scholarship on F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway examine new ways of understandings how fashion mediates masculine gender identity, such as in the dandyism of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction. Such research connects both the sartorial as subject matter and sartoriality as an integral component of modernist aesthetics in the novel. This interest in fashion’s relationship to identity and modernist formal innovation has generated a parallel interest in re-theorizing the existence of a 20th-century, post-war, flâneur figure.
My professionalization plans include publication of a book about sartorial modernism: Fashioning Identity in the Modernist Novel. A second project currently underway, Modern “Man of the Crowd”: Hemingway’s Post-War Flâneur, explores the evolution of the pre-war flâneur that art historians and cultural studies critics have argued became outmoded at the end of the nineteenth-century. My work locates heirs of the pre-war flâneur figure in various incarnations of the post-war journalist-soldier figure that appears in much of Hemingway’s fiction, and including Hemingway himself. I have several articles in various stages of submission process: “No Place Like Home: Hemingway’s Uncanny Homelands,” which identifies a theory of place and/as home in Hemingway’s life and writing is currently under review; “Sartorial Primal Scenes” examines pivotal sartorial moments in the lives of American writers like Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nella Larsen, James Weldon Johnson, and Ernest Hemingway; “Modernism’s Underwear” explores the meaning and political significance of feminine undergarments as metaphor for the literary “battle of the sexes” in work by T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Rhys; “Was Sartorial Student–Am Now Sartorial Stylist: the Evolution of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Sartorial Style” is an archival project that examines exactly what its title suggests.
My working class background, and time teaching in the Chicago Public Schools compels my interest in sartoriality and social class identity in the work of women authors from similar backgrounds, such as Agnes Smedley, Jean Rhys, and Carolyn Steedman. That said, my teaching interests are not limited to my scholarship. I am interested in developing, whether as first-year writing seminars, general education, or literature, courses on such topics: Passing (racial, sexual/gender, class); Consumerism; Wall Street; American Dream–American Nightmare; Ocularcentrism; Utopia/Dystopia; Body Doubles: Avatars, Doppelgangers, and Mannequins; Expatriate Literature; Walking–from Pilgrimage to Psychogeography; and a counter-narrative American Literature Survey currently titled Other American Voices: From Plymouth Rock to Standing Rock.