SEA Scholar of the Month, April 2022: Emily Garcia
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I started grad school intending to study comparative Spanish and English early modern literature. My first semester of graduate coursework I read Mignolo’s The Darker Side of the Renaissance and O’Gorman’s The Invention of Americain a Latina/o/x Theories course, which was also my first time formally studying US Latinx literature and culture in school. Those were early pathways for me. I ended up focusing on theory and modernism for my MA, though it was looking at ways the Spanish conquest had been represented. Then about two years into the PhD I went to my first early Americanist conference, the New Frontiers conference at U Va. It was the first time in academia that I really felt at home. Not only because of the topics examined and approaches taken, but because so many folks seemed so equally full of brilliance and devoid of pretension. It was a warm, challenging, inviting, and inspiring experience, and it felt like I’d finally settled on a path forward for my studies. Looking back, I realize that growing up in an immigrant community in South Florida is also a major factor for my wanting to study the early centuries of settler colonialism and nationhood on this continent. I share all these details for anyone who is ever afraid of “distractions.”
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American and why?
When pressed with questions like these I turn to the “deserted island” scenario, which frankly may not be entirely irrelevant given how much many of us feel somewhat like we are teaching at the end of the world these days, and among students and colleagues with (understandably) beleaguered capacities. So: if I had to teach one text for the rest of my life, and a very short one at that, it’d be Handsome Lake’s “How America Was Discovered”—it covers so many bases for me, from the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries, colonialism, critiques of epistemology and faith, the dialogic, and theories of reading. If I can go a little later, I’d add Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. And If I’m allowed another handful, I’d bring Crèvecoeur, Cabeza de Vaca, Las Casas, and Tenney’s Female Quixotism (with a special shout-out to the last for introducing me to the word “virago” just as I was coming out in grad school). But I have to add that I will always enjoy teaching and talking about CBB–I am teaching Wieland in Methods for English Majors this year, and I am equal parts excited and horrified that it still proves so prescient to our current contexts.
What are you currently working on?
Honestly, I’ve been working a lot on teaching, to circle back to that “end of the world” comment. Given my investment in who and how I teach, and how this overlaps with who has been most affected by the pandemic, I have been developing synchronous and asynchronous online courses with the idea of better reaching, through diverse modalities, our predominantly working, minoritized, and nontraditional students. For someone who has always been teaching to who students are outside the classroom, and who enjoys engaging in a bit of Brechtian defamiliarization in teaching, the disparities and convergences of Zoom have been surprisingly full of potential (when our internets are working). I’m now developing this into a larger project on pedagogies of precarity in times of crisis, with a student who was both an undergraduate and grad student of mine, who is now my TA and RA, and who I’ve yet to meet in person though we live only a few miles apart. (I share all this, again, so folks esp. those still starting their careers can know that academia can look lots of different ways.)
Closer to SEA matters, I continue to develop the “Novel Diplomacies” manuscript that I’ve been working on for a few years now—a genre study of novelistic discourse in the long era of American independence from a hemispheric perspective focusing on interdependence. And I’m also working on another project that is coming out of one chapter of that work, a literary/critical biography focused on the travels of Elizabeth House Trist, including all what she leaves out and what it reveals about interdependence and loss at the heart of the US national imaginary.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
Not EAL as such, but certainly related, one of the most exciting and important books I’ve read in the past couple of years is Harsha Walia’s Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism. I love both the scope and the approach of the work so much—in it Walia develops some really trenchant theorizing of the discursive and material influences and outcomes of the border as it has been deployed to accumulate wealth and power, while also offering (I think) a lot of hope for what’s to come. In EAL, I really enjoyed reading Rodrigo Lazo’s Letters from Filadelfia: Early Latino Literature and the Trans-American Elite, and I am always impressed with the ways Rodrigo mines archives for connection and nuance. And looking ahead, I want to add that like so many of us, I am eager for the publication this year of books from Kabria Baumgartner and Kirsten Silva Gruesz.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
There are many, as you might imagine from my answer to #1. Annette Kolodny has long been an inspiration to me, not only with her scholarship the first time I read The Lay of the Land and The Land Before Her, but also reading and teaching her “Dancing Through the Minefields” so early in my career. Her political engagement and activism within and outside the academy are also immeasurable. Cathy Davidson’s Revolution and the Word was also super instrumental for my graduate work and early scholarship, and I’ve appreciated continuing to learn from her as her career has unfolded from EAL to all her work on pedagogy and reimagining the university. Closer to my subfields, from the very first samples of their scholarship to their most recent books, Kirsten Silva Gruesz’s, Rodrigo Lazo’s, and Anna Brickhouse’s contributions have always been incredibly inspiring and enlightening. It’s been great, and indelibly valuable to us I think, to see their work get more and more attention within SEA. Farther afield from my subspecialties, I will always name Lisa Logan, Michele Lise Tarter, Lorrayne Carroll, Tamara Harvey, Lisa Gordis and Jodi Schorb as women who I met in the conference circuit before even really committing to an academic career, and who have constantly reminded me of why it’s worth staying in it and how to do so with equal parts grace and fierceness. Their scholarship is stellar, but they spirits are just as bright.
Emily Garcia is Associate Professor of English at Northeastern Illinois University, where she is also Affiliate Faculty in Latina/o/x & Latin American Studies and in Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies.