SEA Junior Scholar of the Month, February 2023: Marie Balsley Taylor
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I didn’t come to early American literature until I had already started my PhD. I wrote my MA thesis on the Ojibwe writer Louise Erdrich and had come into my program intending to focus on contemporary Native American literature. In my first year at Purdue, I took Early American literature courses from Christopher Lukasik and Kristina Bross. What I found is that many of the questions that drew me to contemporary Native American literature had their roots in the earlier period. I was also drawn to Early American literature because it made me realize that the story of America’s past is vastly different than what I had been taught.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
My favorite texts to study and teach are the ones that are not fun to read. I like texts that are fragments, snippets, and full of mixed-genres. I am also drawn to sermons, legal documents, genealogies and anything strange. Lately, however, I’ve been enjoying reading Early American texts related to the South in order to bring local connections to my classrooms. The most recent include Henry Goings’ Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery, Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life, and E. Cornelius’s The Little Osage Captive.
What are you currently working on?
My book, Indigenous Kinship, Colonial Texts, and the Contested Space of Early New England, is currently in production and will be published summer of 2023. So while I am waiting on copyedits, I am trying to finish an article for an edited collection. In the article, I’m writing about a 1669 gathering hosted by the Pequot leader Robin Cassacinamon. The gathering brought together a number of Indigenous leaders who had been fighting with one another and I am trying to think about the dance as a moment when a new communal identity is being formed premised on shared ways of acting within a specific space.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I’ve been returning back to contemporary Native American literature lately and am slowly reading through Diane Wilson’s The Seed Keeper and Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman. Both of them are beautifully written and make me pine for the north. Erdrich’s novels always challenge me to think about kinship in new ways which is something that I write about a lot in my scholarship.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Kristina Bross brought me into the field, oversaw my dissertation, and continues to be a valuable resource. She models what it means to be a disciplined scholar and a caring colleague. I’ve also been inspired by Jean O’Brien, Lisa Brooks, Kelly Wisecup, and Laura Stevens. All of these scholars have served as mentors to me and have been exceedingly generous in sharing their time and resources. They are also just really smart women!
Marie Balsley Taylor is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Alabama.