I am a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department of Vanderbilt University. After completing my M.A. in English at the University of Pennsylvania, I moved to Nashville, TN; and with the care and support of the Vanderbilt English community, began my doctorate education. My research and teaching focuses broadly upon African American literature, Gender and Women’s Studies, and American Studies. Although I initially directed my academic attention to twentieth-century African American and Caribbean literatures and particularly feminist readings of conjure women and witches, my interests shifted through my graduate career. I am now solidly planted in the nineteenth century, but considering it long and keeping my eye on the spaces of transition (read: the turn of the century).
My dissertation, Classicism and Classical Allusion in African American Women’s Writing from 1880-1910, argues how, while creating a new tradition at the end of the nineteenth century, African American New Women writers utilized “the master’s tools” of classical allusions, plots, and forms, to undermine national narratives grounded in American Neoclassicism and the republican vision of the American Founders that denied them full citizenship. My project considers black women writers as classicists–and particularly H. Cordelia Ray, Frances E.W. Harper, Pauline E. Hopkins, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson. Although beginning with Phillis Wheatley, I concentrate on these later writers and their concerns with not only literary form and canon formation, but their uses of classical lenses to discuss mounting racial violence, debates of citizenship, and (certainly) gender issues. Through classical allusions, unfulfilled romantic plots, reconfigured fairy tales, and the figure of the “mulatta/o,” proto-modern African American women writers tore away literary convention, gender configurations, and static racial identities, giving rise to a new genre of deconstructionist fiction. The classics, particularly paired with stories of women who belatedly discover their black identities, render legible the instabilities of whiteness as phenotype, the very anxieties resulting in the racial tensions, economic and political flux, and increased violence of the late nineteenth century. Revisiting and considering the literary histories into which she intervenes, my project considers how turn-of-the-century gendered black classicism strips away layers of genre and deconstructs assumptions about the literary, raced gendered subjectivity, and black female authorship.