SEA Scholar of the Month for June 2020: Thomas Hallock
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I love oddities, asking “how does this text work?” As a graduate student, I was drawn to natural history because we had not been thinking about this voluminous body of writing from a literary angle. My favorite texts from early America remain in genres (or media) that may easily fall between the cracks — wampum and treaty proceedings, oral traditions, broadside poems, Spanish octava real epics, even those depositions. The fun in working with early American literature, I think, comes from recovering conventions that are (initially) invisible to us — then figuring out what they’re doing.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
I am never quite done with William Bartram. Years ago, I dreamt that I was in his Philadelphia home, following him from room to room; Bartram kept shutting doors, in his polite and gentle way, insisting that I leave him alone. After I finished co-editing his manuscripts, I thought that I really was finished. But Travels continues to stay with me as a touchstone for understanding the U.S. South.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished up a series of essays on literary travel called A Road Course in Early American Literature: Travel and Teaching from Atzlán to Amherst (due out next year with U Alabama Press). And next year, I go on sabbatical. So my fun project is co-editing a special issue for the Journal of Florida Studies on the Florida Trail, which runs from the Everglades to Pensacola (excuse to get out in the woods–no apologies!) My more scholarly work involves a selected translation of Alonso Gregorio de Escobedo’s La Florida, an epic about early Franciscans, with several remarkable scenes about their interactions with the Timucuan people.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I am particularly inspired by colleagues who bridge scholarly and creative work, like Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, who just released a series of poems on Phillis Wheatley. Likewise, it’s been really cool to follow Anne Myles online, as she turns from mid-late career scholar to an MFA in poetry.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Too many to name! I am blown away by the kindness and personal generosity of so many colleagues. (I hope we never lose that in the SEA.) When Mary Louise Pratt responded to my email a few months back, I was totally star struck. Ditto for Patricia Nelson Limerick — when I got to sit next to her at a conference, some years ago, I felt like I was talking to a rock star.
Thomas Hallock is Professor of English and Frank E. Duckwall Professor of Florida Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.