Monday, October 13, 2014

October 13, 2014: New NEASA Books: Beyond the White Negro

[It’s been a while since I spent a week highlighting the amazing work done by my fellow AmericanStudies scholars. So for this week’s series I thought I’d highlight five recent books by scholars with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working on the NEASA Council. I’d love to hear in comments about books and scholars, recent or otherwise, that have inspired you!]
On a book that quite simply exemplifies the goals I’m working toward these days.
Kimberly Chabot Davis’s first book, Postmodern Texts and Emotional Audiences (Purdue UP, 2007), offers a layered and compelling combination of reader response/reception criticism, theoretical and political engagements with postmodernism, and close analyses of cultural texts in a variety of media and forms. It represents, that is to say, an engaging and entirely successful example of 21st century literary scholarship, of how the discipline has extended to include not only multiple critical and theoretical lenses, but also a wide variety of textual forms and categories alongside more traditional creative literature. But it also is, like my own first book, most definitely geared toward scholarly audiences and communities.
A couple months ago I had the chance to read Davis’s new, second book, Beyond the White Negro: Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading (U of Illinois Press, 2014). Given how much I’ve written, in this space and many others, about my evolving and lifelong goal of producing public scholarship, it might be sufficient to say this: Beyond the White Negro is one of the best models for such scholarship I’ve read in years. It’s deeply nuanced and analytical without losing an ounce of its readability and accessibility, engages with important topics of broad public interest without simplifying its arguments and ideas in the slightest, could be read and utilized by a grad student working on her dissertation or a suburban reading group with equal success and value. It’s just great, on every level and most especially again as a model of 21st century public scholarship.
I don’t know that I need to say any more, but I will add one more important thing. Davis’s Conclusion, “Black Cultural Encounters as a Catalyst for Divestment in White Privilege,” makes extremely nuanced and effective use of her own identity, family, and experiences to add one more layer to her analyses. For much of my academic life I was taught to avoid the personal—even personal pronouns, much less personal perspectives and details—in analytical writing. I’ve resisted that advice for a long time, and would resist it even more strongly when it comes to public scholarship; we can’t possibly pretend that we’re not caught up in our topics and analyses, that they don’t depend on and aren’t tied to our perspectives and identities. Once we admit those links, the next step is to make the personal as analytical as the rest of our work. And on that level as well, Davis’s book is a model.
Next NEASA book tomorrow,
PS. Books or scholars you'd share? I'd love to hear about them!

1 comment:

  1. One update on this post: Davis's book has recently won the 2014 NEASA Lois Rudnick Book Prize! Well-deserved and one more reflection on its impressive achievements.