- How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
As a Canadian I had very little exposure to early American literature in my education; admittedly, I was also wary in part because of US cultural imperialism. My perspective changed when I took Eric Cheyfitz’s seminar Colonial American Literatures at Cornell: I learned about the genealogies of the themes and questions important to me as a scholar and as a person invested in antiracist social justice. It made me consciously consider what kind of scholar I wanted to become. Power and poetics are so intertwined — I believe there is an urgency to recognizing the development of American structures of power and the violences of these early moments of US settler colonialism. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to learn more about the peoples of color and white women who wrote and worked through, against, and in spite of the forces around them.
- Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
I love Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative. Apropos, I am awed by The Book of Negroes, a masterpiece by Black Canadian writer Lawrence Hill who carefully researched and drew upon the early literatures of and about the Black diaspora. I recommend reading these works side by side along with Mary Prince.
- What are you currently working on?
Like many I’m juggling several projects right now. First and foremost, I’m working on my book manuscript about the racial, sexual, and cultural politics of unfeeling in long nineteenth-century America. I’ve added a new chapter that I presented at this past C19 conference on how early Black women doctors rethink and rework dispassionate scientific objectivity during the time of the concept’s development in conjunction with passionlessness, what Ann DuCille identified as a strategy for Black women during this same period. In the last month I’ve presented two papers on different aspects of Asian American settler colonialism — one engaging Pacific Islanders and the other circumpolar Indigenous peoples. Although not tied directly to my current work, I wanted to push myself to learn and think about comparative racialization and my own settler situatedness and complicity; I view this work as coming out of what I have learned about Indigeneity and settler colonialism in early America. Solidarities between peoples of color is a topic close to my heart for personal and professional reasons. Oh, and I have some work in the pipeline on antiracist pedagogy through critical digital humanities and, perhaps, something about queer of color occult and comics.
- What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
At the moment I’m still processing writings by Sylvia Wynter and Denise Ferreira da Silva. Their work is so amazing and, despite my relatively recent exposure, their thinking has already transformed how I approach my work. To be honest, I’m frustrated that it’s taken me this long to read them — for structural and personal reasons I never encountered their work before. At least this is a good reminder of how much I still need to learn and grow!
- Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
There are many scholars whose work and generosity inspires me, but if I had to name just one that would be Lisa Lowe. In particular, I admire how Intimacies of Four Continents engages expansive transnational and comparative frameworks in dialogue with careful archival and textual research and analysis. When I saw her give a talk from this project at The Futures of American Studies at Dartmouth I realized I had never seen an Asian woman academic deliver a lecture before, nor had I ever taken a course taught by one. I’m still understanding on an affective level how much representation means to junior scholars of color struggling to survive and thrive in the academy.
Christine “Xine” Yao is currently a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia and will be taking up the position of Lecturer at University College London.