On three significant spaces where my book incubated.
In late 2011, I had helped Fitchburg State University’s Graduate English Program schedule a guest speaker for our colloquium series. When she subsequently disappeared a week out from the talk, failing to respond to any emails or phone calls, I volunteered to step in and give a presentation; I obviously had nothing planned, and so decided to go with a topic that had been kicking around my head for a while: “Two Wrongs and a Right: Lessons from the Chinese Exclusion Act.” Besides being an argument for sharing the things that kick around our heads, my colloquium talk was also significant in that I received some impressive feedback and questions from the audience of colleagues and students, all of which helped make the eventual book much stronger.
The following spring, I was fortunate enough to teach my first five-week course in Fitchburg’s Adult Learning in the Fitchburg Area (ALFA) program; I’ve blogged on multiple occasions about the wonderful ALFA students, and won’t repeat that praise here. For one of the five weeks in my course on “Expanding Our Collective Memories,” I focused on the Chinese Exclusion Act, extending and adding layers to my colloquium talk (and getting lots more responses in the process). The experience also ended up directly shaping my book’s Introduction: literally, as I begin the intro with some reflections on that week of the ALFA course and what I took away from it; and philosophically, as I came to see and articulate the book’s central goal as a parallel kind of teaching, a passing on of some of the Exclusion Act’s lessons to a public classroom in the broadest and most democratic sense.
The book wouldn’t exist without either of those spaces, and I’m grateful to both programs and conversations. But there’s an even more foundational and fundamental space out of which the book emerged: this one. I don’t just mean that its ideas began with blog posts, although kernels can certainly be found here (Chapter 1), here (Chapter 2), and here (Chapter 3), among others. But it’s bigger and even more fundamental than that: my emerging and evolving public scholarly voice, my desire to write for interested readers out- as well as inside academia, my sense that AmericanStudies work must speak to us all if it is to resonate as fully as it should, have all developed throughout my two and a half years of writing here. Whatever my book is and does, it owes it all to AmericanStudier.
Next reflections tomorrow,
PS. What spaces have helped your work, ideas, and voice develop?
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