SEA Scholar of the Month for March 2019: Birgit Brander Rasmussen
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I first became interested in studying early American literature in graduate school when I heard a lecture by Jose Saldivar on the Spanish-Aztec dialogues of 1524. I was incredibly intrigued to learn that indigenous peoples in the Americas had writing before Europeans arrived and set out to learn more. That became my dissertation topic and indigenous literacies have remained central to my research.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
I really like William Apess and David Walker. I often teach them together. But I can’t say that I have one favorite writer. I have a soft spot for Guaman Poma de Ayala’s Nueva Coronica y Buen Gobierno, although I have not taught it. And then there’s the question of what constitutes an early American text. I really enjoyed Stephanie Fitzgerald’s essay on reading a Mohegan basket, for example. I love texts that reflect and illuminate the interaction of different systems of literacy and writing. I took a lot of linguistics classes at UCLA linguistics department and that interest has stayed with me in my work as an early Americanist.
What are you currently working on?
I recently finished an article called “American Beowulf: Native American Literature 901 AD.” This article is part of a book project where I explore how indigenous American pictography became a site of anti-colonial resistance during the nineteenth century and how it has become an element of cultural resurgence in the present.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
Choctaw linguist Jenny Davis’ book on language, Talking Indian,is really exciting me right now. I also just re-read bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress in preparation for the semester and found it energizing and illuminating as always. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Fronterainspire me every time I re-read them.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
I find the work of Lisa Brooks visionary and transformative. It’s also been very generative for my own work. That said, there are many scholars in the field that inspire me, so much great work is being done in early American literature right now.
Birgit Brander Rasmussen is Associate Professor of English, General Literature and Rhetoric at Binghamton University, State University of New York.