SEA Scholar of the Month for April 2018: Rebecca Lush
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I originally began my graduate studies interested in how English Renaissance authors represented Native peoples in their literary and dramatic works. I soon realized that many of the texts, methodologies, and questions that interested me were better approached from an early Americanist perspective because of the wider range of geographic and cultural histories present in the field. Early American approaches also gave me a better venue to consider indigenous responses and how early American literature continues to help readers today understand the dynamics of contemporary U.S. American culture. I remember the first time I presented at SEA; it confirmed to me that I was definitely an early Americanist (and felt like I was in good company as well!).
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
Tough question—my favorite early American writer is probably Charles Brockden Brown; the Gothicism of Edgar Huntly continues to fascinate me, even though I’ve read and taught the work countless times. My favorite early American texts to teach though are those that have a complicated textual history, where the idea of authorship is not as clear-cut, such as the letters of Molly Brant (Mohawk) (the versions collected by Lisa Moore, Joanna Brooks, and Caroline Wigginton in TransAtlantic Feminisms are especially helpful for teaching) and Deborah Sampson Gannett’s “An Address Delivered to Applause.” I enjoy those texts because Brant and Sampson are figures that help me explain to my students the importance of intersectional approaches to feminist scholarship, and it’s always fun to introduce writers that are unknown to many of my students.
What are you currently working on?
Last fall I published an article in Horror Studies called “Original Sin” that looks at the fictional colonial Virginia backdrop of the CW television series The Vampire Diaries. I have also just finished an edition of Margaret Fell’s writings (co-edited with Jane Donawerth); Fell’s participation in the Society of Friends’ theology and her millennialist view certainly influenced Quaker efforts in colonial America, despite her being based solely in England. One of my current projects (I have a tendency to work on a few things at a time…) is co-editing an essay collection on race and gender in the genre of the Weird Western, and I am also writing a chapter that examines contemporary popular retellings of the “lost colony” of Roanoke story alongside the original seventeenth-century accounts by Harriott and Lane.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I just finished reading Louise Erdrich’s new book The Future Home of the Living God, which incorporates the history and legacy of Katherine Tekakwitha (1656-1680); one of the facets of early American study I enjoy is seeing how contemporary Native authors use their art to decolonize the prevailing views of colonial American history in popular culture. I’ve also been reading a lot of contemporary Gothic works (LaValle’s The Changeling, Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, etc.) and right now I am reading the English translation of the Haitian novel Hadriana in All My Dreams.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Ralph Bauer is the early American scholar who inspires me. He graciously served as the co-director of my doctoral dissertation, and from his mentorship I learned so much about the field, about academic publishing, and, most importantly, about how to ask questions as a scholar. He is also the scholarly model for how to be a mentor to students, and I feel very grateful to have worked with him.
Rebecca Lush is Associate Professor of Literature and Writing Studies at California State University, San Marcos.