SEA Junior Scholar of the Month for April 2019: Kaitlin Tonti
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
As an undergraduate, I was always interested in historically contextualizing the literature I read. The best days in class involved learning the historical context surrounding the texts we were analyzing. It was probably fate that I immediately fell in love with early American literature in Dr. Mary Balkun’s class on the grotesque in early America. Her class opened my eyes to how vast and eclectic early American life was, especially for women. Dr. Balkun’s thoughtful approach to teaching the Salem Witch Trials is what lead me to further develop my interest in early American women’s experiences as they are expressed through various forms of life-writing.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
This is a difficult question to answer as there are so many that, when I read them again, I am re-inspired and remember why I love studying early America. I have two favorite female poets, both from different time periods. I fell in love with Anne Bradstreet’s poetry when I decided to write about her for my MA thesis. Every time I return to her poetry, I experience the passion in her verse, the feeling that she saw her writing as a place for expressing what she couldn’t say in public. In a similar vein, I am currently fascinated with Hannah Griffitts’s poetry, given how she interacted with a community of other female, Quaker poets. Teaching Bradstreet and Griffitts is always fun in how students are usually shocked by how forward their writing is; they have a pre-conceived conception of women in early America, and Bradstreet and Griffitts’s work seems to challenge those ideas.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on finishing my dissertation, “Domestic Shadows: The Fluidity of Spheres in Early American Women’s Life-Writing, 1750-1810,” which I hope to defend in early June. Right now, I am also working on three other projects all at various stages of development. I am finishing a journal length essay considering how early-eighteenth century, Quaker children’s death catechisms offer children an outlet for vocal agency. I further argue how catechisms, such as Hannah Hill Jr’s A Legacy for Children, demonstrate how nineteenth-century sentimental literature has its roots in the agency that eighteenth-century children experienced in death. I am also excited about starting a project on the poetry, diaries, and fragments of Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin, whose work I came upon during my fellowship at the New York Public Library this past summer. Lastly, I am working with several of my colleagues at Seton Hall University on a pedagogy project that considers how students respond, analyze, and understand news sources in the age of media distrust.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
Academically, I just started reading They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers. Just in the first pages, her descriptions of Irish slave owning woman Martha Gibbs immediately pulls readers in and keeps them interested and engaged to read more. As for non-early American texts, I am currently reading Marie Lu’s Legend for fun and because I am teaching it in my Introduction to Literature class on monsters, villains, and heroes.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Mary Balkun, as she was the first to really inspire my passion for early American literature. My dissertation advisor, Todd Thompson, and his work on Benjamin Franklin and satire has always tempted me to invest more time in early American humor studies. Both are kind, generous and caring mentors. Caroline Wigginton’s work on redefining what publication entails helped me to articulate my views on women’s communities in early America. I am also indebted to the scholarship of Karin Wulf, Rosemary Zagarri, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
Kaitlin is currently a PhD Candidate at Indian University of Pennsylvania.