My work is preoccupied with racial performativity, especially (though not exclusively) the ways that black Americans perform racial identity. What modes of embodiment assert belonging or dis-belonging, and how? When do racialized subjects confirm and when do they subvert the expectations of their identitarian positions, and to what end? How do other factors of embodiment (gender, dis/ability, hybridity, and so forth) color these performances? I approach such questions primarily through the lenses of affect and performance studies, using literature, visual culture, fine art, theater, and movement as examples and objects of study.
My first book, Deadpan, argues that inexpression is a gesture that acquires distinctive meanings in concert with blackness. The book tracks instances and meanings of deadpan—a vaudeville term meaning “dead face”—across literature, theater, visual and performance art, and the performance of self in everyday life. I do so to draw critical attention to when, how, and under what conditions artists find inexpression to be a useful tactic or desirable aesthetic approach. Correcting the persistent cast of African American aesthetics as colorful, loud, humorous, and excessive, I assert that the performance of purposeful withholding plays a critical role in the work of black culture makers. Deadpan, I find, is a malleable and capacious register—a surface quiet that marshals genre, material surroundings, and movement in order to affect its audience.
My creative writing preoccupations are similarly concerned with the effects of formal/performative decisions in communicating—or in failing to communicate—one’s position, identity, or view. I am particularly interested in nonfiction writers’ experimentation with nontraditional essay structure—that is, in the utilization of literary devices more commonly associated with poetic form.
- “I Will Will Against Your Way: On Black Embodiment and Poetic Discomposure.”
ASAP/Journal 6, no. 1, 123-144.
- “‘Is That What We Wanted?’: Staging Slavery’s Affective Scripts.” Modern Drama 62, no. 4, 539-564.
- “Williams, Walker, and Shine: Blackbody Blackface, or the Importance of Being Surface." TDR/The Drama Review 59, no. 4, 83-100.
- “Oroonoko, Called You, An Essay In Three Acts,” Imagined Theatres 3.