SEA Scholar of the Month for April 2019: Brigitte Fielder
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I became interested in early American literature rather late in my education. As an undergraduate, I entered my small liberal arts college as an English major, but ultimately dropped my American Literature I course — and the entire major. While I enjoyed other literature-based courses both inside and outside of English departments, that required course convinced me that I ought not to major in English. I did not return to early American literature until late in my graduate studies, working mainly in nineteenth-century U.S. literature during my PhD program, in courses with Shirley Samuels and Eric Cheyfitz. It was there that I first learned that early American literature was not exclusively white and included women beyond Anne Bradstreet. Work that most interests me in early American literature today is in African-American, indigenous, and Latino/a studies. This kind of work was entirely unavailable to me as an undergraduate student, but had it been, I might have begun work in early American literature much earlier.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
Different writers have interested me at different moments, though I’m hesitant to put too much emphasis on authorship. Early African American literary studies has shown how focus on authorship, though sometimes quite interesting, may significantly limit our view of early American writing and culture. Recently I’ve been reading Belinda’s Petition – and literary and historical discussions of it – with utter fascination at the various reactions to this text as it is situated and re-situated with relation to historical contexts for its repetition and in interdisciplinary fields of study that are constantly re-learning how to read early African American texts. I think my “favorite” early American text is any piece of early black literature that has yet to be “recovered” but the discussion of which will contribute to these ongoing shifts in our understandings of and methodologies for reading and teaching early American literature itself. What really draws me into early American literary studies is how the study of texts like these cause us to re-think our methodologies and pedagogies around this work.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been writing recently about early black futurity, thinking especially about the resonances of children and childhood. I’ve become interested in Afrofuturism as a mode for understanding black imaginings of and investments in the future that we might extend much earlier than the twentieth century. I’ve also been thinking about the different kinds of “futuristic” technologies we might consider that are different from those with which Afrofuturism is usually concerned. Print technology is one way that black people have used technological innovation to envision future generations of black people. I think notions of Afrofuturism might be productively extended into early black America.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
Black feminist theory. Especially recent work by scholars such as Christina Sharpe and Brittney Cooper.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
One early American scholar who continually inspires me is previous SEA Scholar of the Month Tara Bynum. Her work is meticulous and her readings are fascinating. She can draw out the nuance of a text and situate it in such a way that it makes the familiar new again and the ordinary fascinating. She knows how to tell a story. She’s one of the scholars who has kept me coming to SEA because her work continues to show how scholars of color ask us to think about early American literature differently.
Brigitte Fielder is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.