SEA Scholar of the Month, September 2023: Wendy Roberts
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I was never interested in early America when I was young, but two moments stand out to me that changed that: in undergrad I took a survey course with Brian Ingraffia and read Anne Bradstreet’s “The Flesh and the Spirit”; and then in graduate school I read Phillis Wheatley (Peters) with Betsy Erkkila in her “The Other Revolution” seminar. After that, I changed my focus from Modernism to early American poetry!
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
Phillis Wheatley (Peters), hands down. What is not to like? And right now is a very exciting time with such good work being done on all of her writings—as evidenced by Bynum, Fielder, and Smith’s new special issue of EAL and Jeffers’ Age of Phillis, which I love.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been doing a good deal of archival research over the last two years for a book on the manuscript networks and poetic coteries of Phillis Wheatley (Peters). I’m excited to introduce a new Wheatley poem (and possibly two) to the world in January!
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
There is so much impressive work coming out all the time that it is impossible to answer this question. But, in my graduate seminar on early American religious writing we just read Jennifer Scheper Hughes’s The Church of the Dead, which is not only timely (pandemic) but also crucial for how it reroutes early American history through indigenous Catholicism. I’m also reading Tracy K. Smith’s Such Color: New and Selected Poems for pure pleasure.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
This is truly impossible to answer. There have been so many—especially women scholars who have not only inspired me with their scholarship, but with their generosity, many of whom I have met through SEA conferences. I am not the most social person (understatement), and I have always been blown away with the kindness shown to me by senior scholars there. So I guess I’m saying I’ve been inspired by the SEA women scholars writ large, with special shout outs to Sandra Gustafson, Marion Rust, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Tracy Fessenden, Laura Stevens, Theresa Strouth Gaul, Lisa Gordis, and Meredith Neuman.
Wendy Roberts is Associate Professor of English, Director of Undergraduate Studies, University at Albany, SUNY.