SEA Junior Scholar of the Month for November 2017: Melissa Antonucci
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
My interest in early American literature began during my master’s program at Old Dominion University. I had the opportunity to take classes with the incomparable Jeffrey H. Richards, who became not only one of my favorite professors, but my mentor as well. From him, I learned I could in fact enjoy the literature from this period. Most specifically, I remember his lecture on Mary Rowlandson. I had read her captivity narrative as an undergrad, and I must admit, somewhat abashedly, that I hated it! But Dr. Richards made Rowlandson come alive in lecture. I was haunted by the image of her nighttime restlessness while the rest of her family slept soundly. After my engagement with this text and the many others I read that semester, I came to appreciate the complexity and contradictoriness of early America and the literature that captured its violent birth.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
Well, that one is easy: Charles Brockden Brown. If I could read only one early American text for the rest of my life, it would be Ormond–a strange and rich text that both entertains and surprises me every time I read it.
What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m working on a contribution for Early Modern Trauma, edited by Cynthia Richards and Erin Peters, forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press. My essay explores the political, spiritual, racial, and multigenerational dimensions of trauma in early American women’s experiences. More specifically, my focus is on The Female American–a 1767 novel that follows the exploits of Unca Eliza Winkfield, a biracial princess of both English and Native American ancestry, who is deserted on an island for refusing an offer of marriage. Written soon after the end of the Seven Years’ War, the novel addresses individual and transhistorical instances of trauma, demonstrating how both are rooted to the European colonial project and Native American dispossession and relocation. My contribution to this volume seeks to understand the interconnectedness between personal and intergenerational trauma, embedded social and cultural values unearthed in strange and unfamiliar vistas, and the reconstitution of home as they merge within imagined early British Atlantic landscapes.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Before that, I read Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I’m currently reading Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. I’m realizing now as I answer this question that I’m apparently drawn to the fantasy genre, specifically those texts that explore human kinesis untethered to the realm of possibility.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Right now, I’m quite inspired by Kathleen Donegan and her recently published Seasons of Misery, which I just started reading. Not only am I impressed (and inspired) by her writing and expansive scholarship, but I’m also fascinated by the stories she weaves together of early settlement and disaster.
Dr. Melissa Antonucci teaches First-Year Composition at the University of Oklahoma.