Gay and Lesbian Studies

Happy 80th Birthday to Esther Newton

Join us today in wishing pioneering anthropologist Esther Newton a happy eightieth birthday. We are proud to have published three titles by Newton and invite you to revisit them in her honor today.

Newton’s editor, Ken Wissoker, shares, “For as long as I can remember, Esther Newton has been a guiding presence in queer anthropology. When I started as an editor, I would sometimes sit with her and Elizabeth Kennedy at talks, watching what she had helped birth in the legendary Mother Camp grow into a major part of the field. Our collaborations on Margaret Mead Made Me Gay and on her memoir My Butch Career are highlights of my time at the Press, books that will carry her work for queer generations to come.

My Butch CareerIn her memoir My Butch Career (2018), Newton tells the compelling, disarming, and at times sexy story of her struggle to write, teach, and find love, all while coming to terms with her identity during a particularly intense time of homophobic persecution in the twentieth century. Despite having written the now-classic text Mother Camp (1972), she was denied tenure twice. But by age forty, where My Butch Career‘s narrative ends, she began to achieve personal and scholarly stability in the company of the first politicized generation of out lesbian and gay scholars with whom she helped create gender and sexuality studies.

978-0-8223-2612-0_prWhile My Butch Career mingles personal reflection on her upbringing, her parents, and her love affairs with her struggle to be recognized professionally, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay (2000) is more of an intellectual memoir that chronicles the development of her ideas from the excitement of early feminism in the 1960s to friendly critiques of queer theory in the 1990s.

978-0-8223-5553-3_prIn 2014, we brought Newton’s book Cherry Grove, Fire Island, originally published in in 1993, back into print in a teachable paperback edition. The book is a cultural history of the gay and lesbian vacation town near New York City, where she herself vacationed for many years. Her ethnography was deeply personal. In an interview with Cultural Anthropology, she recounts, “I gave a book party in the Grove to sell books, but also to do a slideshow, to give something back to the community. What people really were interested in, though, was to go to the index and look for their own names.”

A movie about Newton is in the works. One scene was filmed at the Duke University Press booth at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, where we launched My Butch Career. We can’t wait to see it!

These days Esther Newton is retired and splits her time between Michigan, where she was previously a professor of American Culture and Women’s and Gender Studies, and Florida. She enjoys spending time with family and doing agility training with her dogs. When interviewed for Queer Forty a few years ago, she said, “The second half of life does hold pleasures. We are not as hot as we once were, but we can know the pleasures of long term life partner relationships and friendships. . . . Some of the uncertainty and anxiety of the earlier years do abate. And I have found that there is such a thing as wisdom.”

Esther Newton on motorcycle

Esther Newton, 1967. Photograph by Nancy Rae Smith.

Thank you, Esther, for all the wisdom you have shared through your scholarship, and Happy Birthday!

New Titles in Women’s Studies

Every year we look forward to meeting authors in person at the NWSA Annual Meeting, and we are sad to be missing out on that this year. We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues with coupon code NWSA20 until November 23, 2020.

View our Women’s Studies catalog below for a complete list of all our newest titles in women, gender, and sexuality studies and across disciplines. You can also explore all of our books and journals in the field on dukeupress.edu. And although you cannot join us in the booth this year, you can listen to a number of our authors discuss their books through our In Conversation series on our YouTube channel.

Editor Elizabeth Ault has a message for everyone who would have attended NWSA this year, with her recommendations of the latest books in women, gender, and sexuality studies.

Editor Elizabeth Ault

Dear NWSA,

I was so looking forward to gathering with you all in the greatest city in the world, Minneapolis, this fall, but it’s not to be. I’m sending solidarity to all the folks who have been doing incredible organizing work there for years before the murder of George Floyd (#justiceforfonglee, #justiceforjamarclarke, #ceceisfree, #cecetaughtme #justiceforphilandocastile) and continue to provide networks of care and support every dang day. 

I am so excited to be in conversation with y’all about the feminist work in Black studies, disability studies, geography, trans studies, queer theory, history, and more that has its home at NWSA. Please sign up for office hours to discuss your work with me here

In the meantime, I know many of you are shopping the sale. Here are some crucial feminist texts that would never have made it to 50% off day in the booth–and you can get them shipped directly to you for 50% off from our website!!!  You’ll see important strands of Black feminist thought and queer theory throughout these books, so I’ve tried to organize them more by method and topic to help you find what you’re looking for. 

I’m writing this in late October and you’ll be reading it on the other side of whatever happens on November 3. Regardless, I’m confident these books have important wisdom to offer us as we move through this extraordinarily painful year, fortified by the work of organizers in Minneapolis and around the world, and by these thinkers and writers. They’re all helping us to imagine the world we want to live in and work to make it possible.

Jih-Fei Cheng, Alex Juhasz, and Nishant Shahani’s AIDS and the Distribution of Crises comes directly out of that scholarly/activist nexus, bringing together insights from a range of fields and positions about the ongoing viral crises that COVID-19 cratered into this winter. Sima Shakhsari’s book The Politics of Rightful Killing looks at transnational online networks of writers and activists to consider how Iranians in the diaspora and Iran itself thought about reconstituting democracy. Jillian Hernandez’s Aesthetics of Excess is right there too, drawing on her work with Black and Latina girls in Women on The Rise in Miami.

Writing in Space

Alongside the amazing art Jillian and her interlocutors at WOTR created, much of which is included in full color in the book, we have some really amazing feminist art books out right now. Lorraine O’Grady’s work was at the center of the mind-blowing, pathbreaking We Wanted a Revolution show at the Brooklyn Museum a few years back, and now she has her own solo show there, accompanied by this new book of her writings about art practice and her vision for a Black feminist art world, Writing in Space. Maya Stovall has been performing and showing Liquor Store Theatre, a Detroit-based art and performance project for several years; her book by the same name considers the project as an ethnographic one reimagining what dispossessed neighborhoods in Detroit might still play host to. Bakirathi Mani’s new book, Unseeing Empire, centers work by South Asian women artists Annu Matthew, Seher Shah, and Gauri Gill to consider how empire continues to haunt South Asian desires for representation and representability.

978-1-4780-0663-3But it’s not just visual arts that are important – feminist approaches to music also play a big role on this list, with books by Maureen Mahon, Shana Redmond, Ren Ellis Neyra, and Xavier Livermon centering the sonic.

And Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub is a work of art–no less than an oracle for our times. 

Another oracular work newly available is Jose Munoz’s posthumous Sense of Brown. This book is deep and lasting and Jose’s influence and importance is so clear and undeniable. More theoretical work on this list alongside Jose’s is Cressida Heyes’s book Anaesthetics of Existence, which is really speaking to me as this year continues to take and take. It’s a feminist phenomenology for this moment. Other books theorizing embodiment here include Neetu Khanna’s Visceral Logics of Decolonization, and Naked Agency, in which author Naminata Diabate considers women’s naked protests across Africa and the diaspora as a weighty, powerful form of vulnerable resistance.

naked agency

Diabate’s work is embedded in a long history of such protests–new feminist history work from Brandi Brimmer, Francoise Verges, and Lynn Thomas provides important tools for understanding how we got here, and how things could be different. 

And feminist ethnography has a strong presence on this list too, with nuanced and sensitive accounts of relationality and care in everyday life from Abigail Dumes, Saiba Varma, and Marilyn Strathern

information activism
Click cover image for In Conversation talk with McKinney!

Relations, the topic of Strathern’s capacious theorization, are also at the foundation of Brigitte Fielder’s rethinking of kinship and race. Her book is part of a strong list in queer and feminist cultural and literary studies that includes new books from Jack Halberstam (important queer theory, yes, but also important Kate Bush content!), Bo Ruberg (whose new book series is accepting proposals), Gillian Harkins (why are you still watching To Catch a Predator? I mean, you won’t after reading this book), Cait McKinney (the book we fondly refer to as “how lesbians invented the internet”), Erica Fretwell (She’ll make you care about The Yellow Wallpaper again, through centering the role of SMELL of all things), and Sam Pinto (the definitive take on Sarah Baartman and Sally Hemings that you have been waiting for!!).

That’s a lot of books! There’s so much richness and brilliance here. I’m excited to hear what you think about these books and how they’re informing your own work on twitter and in my office hours. In the meantime, keep well.

If you were hoping to connect with Elizabeth Ault or another of our editors about your book project at NWSA, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our online submissions guidelines here.

And don’t forget about our great journals in gender studies, like Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism; the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies; Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies; differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies; GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. If you don’t have access through your library, ask them to subscribe, pick up a personal subscription, or add a special issue to your sale order!

In Conversation: Ricardo Montez and Joshua Gutterman Tranen

Watch our latest In Conversation video in which Assistant Editor Joshua Gutterman Tranen talks with Ricardo Montez about his new book, Keith Haring’s Line: Race and the Performance of Desire. They discuss the life and legacy of Keith Haring, the commercialization of his work, and how to think through Haring’s complicated – and at times problematic – relationship to Black and Latinx culture.

In Conversation: Cait McKinney and Courtney Berger

We hope you enjoy the latest video in our In Conversation series, which features Cait McKinney, author of Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies, speaking about the book with Executive Editor Courtney Berger. In the book, McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.

New Books in May

SPRING50_SaleApril20_Blog_ExtendedMay25

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve extended our Spring Sale through  May 25, which will allow you to pick up some new titles at 50% off this month. Use coupon SPRING50 to save.

In the beautifully illustrated, full-color book  AFRICOBRA, painter, photographer, and cofounder of Chicago arts collective AFRICOBRA Wadsworth A. Jarrell tells the definitive history of the group’s creation, history, and artistic and political principles and the ways it captured the rhythmic dynamism of black culture and social life to create uplifting art for all black people.

Eric Zolov presents a revisionist account of Mexican domestic politics and international relations during the long 1960s in The Last Good Neighbor, tracing how Mexico emerged from the shadow of FDR’s Good Neighbor policy to become a geopolitical player in its own right during the Cold War. Look for a Q&A with Zolov on our blog later this month.

Through innovative readings of gay and lesbian films, Lee Wallace offers a provocative argument in Reattachment Theory that queer experiments in domesticity have profoundly reshaped heterosexual marriage to such an extent that now all marriage is gay marriage.

François Ewald’s The Birth of Solidarity—first published in French in 1986 and appearing here in English for the first time—is one of the most important historical and philosophical studies of the rise of the welfare state. This edition is edited by Melinda Cooper.

Louise Amoore examines how machine learning algorithms are transforming the ethics and politics of contemporary society in Cloud Ethics, proposing what she calls cloud ethics as a way to hold algorithms accountable by engaging with the social and technical conditions under which they emerge and operate.

In Re-enchanting Modernity, Mayfair Yang examines the reemergence of religious life and ritual after decades of enforced secularized life in the coastal city of Wenzhou, showing how local practices of popular religion, Daoism, and Buddhism influence economic development and the structure of civil society.

In Writing Anthropology, fifty-two anthropologists reflect on scholarly writing as both craft and commitment, offering insights into the myriad roles of anthropological writing, the beauty and the function of language, the joys and pains of writing, and encouragement to stay at it. This collection is edited by Carole McGranahan.

In Beijing from Below, Harriet Evans tells the history of the residents in Dashalar—now redeveloped and gentrified but once one of the Beijing’s poorest neighborhoods—to show how their experiences complicate official state narratives of Chinese economic development and progress. 

Alex Blanchette explores how the daily lives of a Midwestern town that is home to a massive pork complex were reorganized around the life and death cycles of pigs while using the factory farm as a way to detail the state of contemporary American industrial capitalism in Porkopolis. As the coronavirus tears through meatpacking plants around the U.S., Blanchette’s analysis is highly relevant. We’ll feature a Q&A with him on our blog later in the month.

Drawing on examples of things that happen to us but are nonetheless excluded from experience, as well as critical phenomenology, genealogy, and feminist theory, Cressida J. Heyes shows how and why experience has edges, and analyzes phenomena that press against them in Anaesthetics of Existence.

In The Government of Beans, Kregg Hetherington uses Paraguay’s turn of the twenty-first century adoption of massive soybean production and the regulatory attempts to mitigate the resulting environmental degradation as a way to show how the tools used to drive economic growth exacerbate the very environmental challenges they were designed to solve.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

 

Poem of the Week

Welcome back to our weekly poetry feature. For our final April posting, please enjoy the poem “Lost in the Hospital” from What the Body Told  (1996) by physician Rafael Campo. Much of Campo’s early poetry was in response to the AIDS epidemic and readers may find resonance during today’s COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not that I don’t like the hospital.
Those small bouquets of flowers, pert and brave.
The smell of antiseptic cleaners.
The ill, so wistful in their rooms, so true.
My friend, the one who’s dying, took me out
To where the patients go to smoke, IV’s
And oxygen tanks attached to them–
A tiny patio for skeletons. We shared
A cigarette, which was delicious but
Too brief. I held his hand; it felt
Like someone’s keys. How beautiful it was,
The sunlight pointing down at us, as if
We were important, full of life, unbound.
I wandered for a moment where his ribs
Had made a space for me, and there, beside
The thundering waterfall of his heart,
I rubbed my eyes and thought, “I’m lost.”

Rafael Campo is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of several books, including Comfort Measures Only, Alternative MedicineThe Enemy, and Landscape with Human Figure, all also published by Duke University Press. Campo’s most recent poem, “The Doctor’s Song,” featured in Harvard Magazine, attempts to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic from the physician’s perspective. His books (and all in-stock titles) are currently available for 50% off with coupon SPRING50 during our sale.

Q&A With Margaret Randall

Margaret Randall is a poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, memoirist, and photographer who has published over 150 books of poetry and prose. In her newest book, I Never Left Home, she details the extraordinary stories from her life, recounting moments ranging from her time living among New York’s abstract expressionists in the mid-1950s as a young woman to working in the Nicaraguan Ministry of Culture to instill revolutionary values in the media during the Sandinista movement.

 

You explain in Chapter 1 that you started this project by writing about your time in New York in the late 1950s and subsequently moved forward and backwards in time throughout your writing process. How was the experience of placing these chapters in chronological order for the book? Did conceiving of your memories in this linear fashion bring you to any new insights about your life?

I guess I should say that I have always believed more in non-linear than in linear time. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t begin this memoir by writing about my earliest years but rather about my years in New York City, an experience I had never written about before. When it came time to organize the book I did go with a chronological timeline, though, maybe because I thought it would allow readers to follow my life and times as they have unfolded. This also seemed like a good choice because earlier experiences inevitably influenced later ones, and I wanted my readers to understand that.

A number of big geographic and cultural moves punctuate your life—first as a child to New Mexico, and later as an adult to Spain, New York, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua, and then back to New Mexico. Throughout these moves, you navigated many “insider/outsider moments” —moments in which you felt at home, and those in which you grappled with your racial identity, class status, and foreignness. What have you learned about the importance of embracing one’s position as an outsider? What kinds of connections break down this distinction and allow one to feel at home?

Embracing one’s experience as an outsider is necessary. One always wants to belong; it is part of the human condition. But if one chooses to live in places foreign to one’s culture or in ways that are foreign to one’s class, racial or gender identities, one’s “otherness” is right out there for all to see. There is no denying or getting around it. So, I think we learn to make peace with that and live the experience as it is. As a young US American in Latin America, living and working and raising my children in countries frequently attacked or exploited by the United States, it was inevitable that I should carry a sense of guilt. Inevitable but not healthy. I had to learn to struggle with that and not allow it to overpower or destroy me. I believe one can straddle this outsider condition best by living as much as possible as the people where you are living. In Mexico this meant learning about dozens of indigenous cultures, appreciating native art and music, participating in national fiestas. In Cuba it meant refusing the foreigner’s ration book and living as much as possible like a Cuban. In Nicaragua it meant participating in national defense as the Contra war heated up. Despite such efforts, though, if one is from somewhere else one is an outsider. So then it becomes important to figure out how to make one’s condition transparent and use it to benefit others.

You mention that, while living in Seville, you “immediately agreed” to assist smuggling contraceptives from Morocco to Spain, as would be your response to other future invitations to risk. At what other moments in your life do you recall agreeing to risk? How necessary is risk in one’s pursuit of justice? 

I have taken risks as long as I can remember. Smuggling contraceptives into Spain in the 1950s was just one example. In Mexico I assisted revolutionary organizations and took part in the 1968 Mexican Student Movement. In Cuba I insisted on asking difficult questions of a revolution not accustomed to being questioned by outsiders. And when I returned to the United States and was ordered deported because of opinions expressed in some of my books, I didn’t leave but decided to fight for my right to stay. All these moments, and others, involved risk. I can’t really explain why it has been so natural for me to take risks. Perhaps it is written into a person’s DNA. Perhaps I was simply following the example of mentors who were, themselves, notable risk-takers.

While publishing the bilingual journal El Corno with Sergio Mondragón during the 1960s, you recall believing that “poetry could change the world.” How did you conceive of the relationship between artistic expression and revolution then? What connection do you see between them today, both in the US and abroad? 

I have always believed that poetry is a necessary ingredient to living fully. Revolution, or working for justice, is really about living fully. We can only live fully if we struggle for equality and fairness in all areas. Art is the highest manifestation of living to the fullest, engaging all the senses, experiencing the heights and depths of the human experience. When I was younger and claimed that poetry could change the world, I think I meant that more explicitly than when I say the same thing today. Today I understand this more complexly. Poetry—and artistic expression generally—allows us to exercise our imaginations, think outside the box, believe in the “impossible”. It is in this sense that I believe it can change the world.

It was not until your return to the US that you were able to reflect on your sexual identity and come out as a lesbian to yourself and others. What was it about returning “home” that allowed for this personal exploration? 

I think what kept me from understanding my sexual identity while I was living in Latin America, especially when I was in Cuba and Nicaragua, was that I was involved in situations of social change that required full focus on the collective. It would have been healthier if we had found ways to attend to our personal issues as well, but we didn’t know how. That was one of the problems with the movements with which I was involved. We rarely prioritized our own needs. The collective was what was important. So, when I came back to the US, I was immersed in the women’s movement. It was the 1980s, and women were addressing issues of personal identity, domestic violence, recovery, and so forth. Arriving in the midst of this community of women, many of whom were lesbians, somehow allowed me to begin to question my own sexual identity. It was in this context, as well, that I remembered the incest of which I had been a victim as a very young child. I do believe that social change movements must find ways to combine the personal with the public, develop ways to struggle that take into account people’s individual differences and needs.

You describe your witnessing of the Cuban and Sandinista Revolutions as a “privilege,” as you experienced times in which quests for justice, passion, and creativity seemed to be bursting at the seams of daily life. What do you hope younger generations looking for revolutionary change might learn from these memories and experiences?

I do believe that I was privileged to have lived in the places where I lived and at the times when I lived in them. And that sense of privilege, in my mind, implies the willingness to share those experiences. Every generation is faced with new situations that demand new strategies and tactics. But we can learn a lot from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, their struggles and solutions. Just as I believe that I can learn a lot from those who are coming up now. In terms of my memoir, I guess I just hope that it is a good read, a story or series of stories that express one woman’s journey through the second part of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.

Watch Margaret discuss her book and read a passage:

You can catch Margaret at a virtual reading sponsored by Collected Works Bookstore on April 30 at 6:00pm MDT. Read the introduction to I Never Left Home free online. Save 50% off all in-stock titles, including Randall’s other books, Che on My Mind, Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary, and Exporting Revolution with coupon SPRING50 until May 1, 2020.

Q&A with Matt Brim

MattBrimDuke2Matt Brim is Associate Professor of Queer Studies in the English Department at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York; author of James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination; and coeditor of Imagining Queer Methods. His newest book, Poor Queer Studies: Confronting Elitism in the University, shifts queer studies away from sites of elite education toward poor and working-class students and locations, showing how the field is driven by those flagship institutions that perpetuate class and race inequity in higher education.

In what ways did your own institutional journey among universities of varying prestige incite your desire to write this book? 

Higher education in the U.S. is incredibly stratified. As a matter of course, colleges are divided into class-based tiers and sorted by wealth-based rankings. Though the top of the academic hierarchy is visible thanks to the power of money and status to shine a spotlight on well-resourced academic people and places, much of the university world exists in a kind of educational shadow. Looking across tiers—and especially looking down tiers—becomes extremely difficult. You have to be a bit lucky to escape the aspirational, upward-looking vision created by the misconception that our models for good academic work come from high-status colleges and well-placed scholars.

Poor Queer StudiesMy own educational trajectory has taken me through tiers, up and down. I want to stress that this movement was fortuitous rather than intentional. I attended Wabash College, a small rich liberal arts college in Indiana, because Wabash paid most of my way. I earned my Ph.D. in English at Indiana University, a flagship state school, because that’s the only graduate program that accepted me. And then I taught freshman academic writing as a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University. I got that job because I’d taught so much composition at I.U. and because I’d been given the freedom by my mentors there to bring Queer Studies into the composition classroom. Duke was another world, even compared to the other relatively well-resourced schools I’d attended. The privilege it draws on and the privileges it affords are just staggering. Duke, not at all coincidentally, is one of the birthplaces of queer theory. After three years at Duke, I applied for a job at the College of Staten Island (CSI), a school I’d never heard of, a school that was largely invisible and unknowable from the outside, from above. Yet this off-the-radar, massively underfunded, open admissions, public school was advertising for an assistant professor of Queer Studies. This was strange to me because I’d only heard of Queer Studies happening at colleges I’d heard of. Yet only because I ended up at CSI, only because I’ve traveled from high to low in the academy, have I been able to conceive of this book. Poor Queer Studies tells the story of my re-education in Queer Studies at a place where the field is not known, not seen, not imagined to be.

You draw out a tension between Queer Studies’ identity as site of radical thinking, anti-normativity, and as a “disruptive cog in the system” of the university and its actual entanglements in a system of higher education that actively reproduces class stratification. Is this tension unique to Queer Studies? Does it play out in Queer Studies in a way distinctive than in other identity studies fields that have similar progressive desires? 

That such a tension exists means there is potential for change, and indeed Queer Studies has changed the academy in meaningful ways that have benefited several generations of students and scholars. At the same time, Queer Studies has been shaped by the two dynamics that have inarguably defined the true mission of the university for the past 30 years: class stratification and race sorting. Complicit in this structure, Queer Studies has found any number of ways to ease rather than confront queer-class tensions. I suspect that Queer Studies’ investment in radicality—which is perhaps our uniquely dominant field impulse—has contributed to such an easing of queer-class tensions. It’s not polite to ask what a radical idea costs to make, and it’s surely impossible to know all the ways some of our most radical queer ideas have been buoyed by institutional prestige, privilege, and material resources. It may also be true that the energy of powerful new ideas can make them seem self-sustaining, and we’d rather let them float free than weigh them down with the receipts from their production.

Nevertheless, powerful and even radical queer ideas get made on the cheap as well, and that fact is my entry point for this book. But because Queer Studies at schools such as CSI and other CUNY colleges endures within a thick web of class-based compromises, our queer radicality operates within palpable contexts of queer-class constraint. Needless to say, compromised queer radicality makes for a weak rallying cry, and so queer radicality tethered to and marked by class constraint makes Poor Queer Studies seem far afield from the visionary field of Queer Studies. If we want to keep the various class incarnations of the field in touch with each other—and that is one of my goals in this book—we might be more candid about the materiality of the production of all of our queer ideas. Put differently, Poor Queer Studies argues that queer scholarship ought be thought of as a workplace report, which is to say a localized record of material resources and queer resourcefulness.

In the book, you mention that you think of “poor” as a dimension of experience that informs your pedagogy at the College of Staten Island. Can you elaborate on what possibilities– linguistic, pedagogical, or theoretical– you find in the language of “poor”? 

I chose to use the word “poor” because it offers both a precision and a capaciousness and because it’s a word that people tend to quickly reject. The precision comes from its direct reference to the economic realities of life at CUNY, for “poor” sets the material baseline for teaching and scholarship at most of our campuses. Many CUNY students and their families live below the poverty line or are low-income or have precarious housing and food insecurity. Many of our campuses are crumbling because the State of New York refuses to fund repairs that it can, in fact, afford. Even with recent raises, our adjuncts are dramatically underpaid when compared to adjuncts at local public and deep-pocketed private universities. Coalescing in the term “poor,” these material conditions are the starting points for our intellectual work at CUNY, including the work of Queer Studies. You can’t go around them or set them aside. They preface and infuse all we do.

Appearing in so many forms, “poor” also becomes a conceptual baseline and a discursive construct, as well as a material reality. One interesting consequence is that in theory many CUNY community members try to reject “poor.” We are incentivized to turn away from “poor” because, on the one hand, it situates students too statically at the wrong end of an educational narrative that pins its hopes on social mobility, while on the other hand it deflates what I call the “aspirational mood” that characterizes the work of administrators and faculty alike at lower tier schools. Rather than reject “poor,” however, I try to integrate it into an analysis that asks about how Queer Studies actually happens at sites where “poor” is perhaps the primary coordinate by which we locate our “queer” work. And because “poor” evokes “rich,” I am also able to pursue a very differently located, comparative class analysis, setting Poor Queer Studies schools in relation to Rich Queer Studies schools—a relation the field very rarely pursues or acknowledges.

At non-elite institutions, faculty are expected to develop curricula that are both intellectually rigorous and train students for the workplace. What is the role of Queer Studies in improving and changing work? What kinds of queer labor can Queer Studies prepare students for?

Unlike most students at elite colleges, most students at non-selective four-year colleges and at community colleges already work for money, many of them full time. Insofar as Queer Studies has longstanding, field-defining associations with the wealthiest and most privileged higher education institutions rather than schools that serve non-traditional and working students, the field has been unprepared to think about the intersection of queer knowledge production and worker/working-class education. We haven’t asked very much about how Queer Studies classes can prepare students for the workforce; indeed, that question seems pretty unqueer given Queer Studies’ frequent critiques of the neoliberal university’s insinuations with capital. Also, the question of how to make better queer workers is not a liberal arts-friendly question, and Queer Studies is a liberal arts field. But it is the question in front of us at CSI, in night school, on weekends, after or before students’ workdays begin, or on their days off.

My students are interested, in other words, in how to use the language, ideas, and politics of Queer Studies on the job—not only their future careers but the jobs they’re headed to after class. We talk about breakrooms and bus rides to work and customer service roles and student-teaching classrooms, and we translate “high queer theory” to those local worksites. We think about how Queer Studies can make work life a bit better. On a personal level, doing this kind of queer-class integration has enabled me to reorient my own work life toward other kinds of labor and to appreciate the impoverishment of Queer Studies classrooms where the only queer career modeled is the Queer Studies professor’s own.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from Poor Queer Studies? What kind of future research do you hope it might inspire? 

I recently organized a panel at MLA on “Queer Studies and Its Class Locations.” The other panelists, Longoria and Eric Solomon, blew me away. Longoria works on queer issues in teacher education with a particular focus on queer immigrant youth and those with UndocuQueer identities, and Eric works at the intersection of poverty, the American South, and higher education. While each generously suggested that a poor queer studies framework had helped them conceptualize their work, they’re actually doing incredibly unique and groundbreaking research that recasts poor queer studies in ways I never would have imagined or predicted. That’s exciting to see. Moving ahead, just how many ways can we answer the question, “What’s poor about Queer Studies now?”

I end Poor Queer Studies by suggesting that we need more “queer ferrying” between non-peer institutions and, especially, between rich and poor colleges. We need more cross-class, cross-institutional sharing of opportunity, resources, and place-based knowledges and pedagogies. We need to train graduate students to do Queer Studies in its many institutional locations, not just in its class-based holding pattern at R1 and top tier schools. For me, working at CUNY, Queer Studies has become inseparable from open access public education. I hope Poor Queer Studies not only gives a name and a framework to a set of ideas that are imminent or nascent but also paves the way for the anti-elitist queer ferrying of those ideas around the many queer places of the academy.

Read the introduction to Poor Queer Studies free online and save 30% on the paperback edition with coupon code E20BRIM.

New Books in February

This month, we’re releasing an array of new reads in all of the subjects you love. Take a look at these new books coming this February!

The concluding volume in a poetic triptych, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.

In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based media theory frameworks and reorients the perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

In The Ocean in the School, Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success.

In Orozco’s American Epic, Mary K. Coffey examines José Clemente Orozco’s mural cycle Epic of American Civilization, which indicts history as complicit in colonial violence and questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project.

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In Unfixed, Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial politics in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960, showing how photography both reflected and actively contributed to social and political change.

In Are You Entertained?, a collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and artist statements on topics ranging from music and dance to Black Twitter and the NBA’s dress code, the contributors consider what culture and Blackness mean in the twenty-first century’s digital consumer economy. This volume is edited by Simone C. Drake and Dwan K. Henderson.

In Musicophilia in Mumbai, Tejaswini Niranjana traces the place of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai throughout the long twentieth century, showing how the widespread love of music throughout the city created a culture of collective listening and social subjects who embodied new forms of modernity.

Focusing on the work of a Marxist anticolonial literary group active in India between the 1930s and 1950s, Neetu Khanna rethinks the project of decolonization in The Visceral Logics of Decolonization by showing how embodied and affective responses to colonial subjugation provide the catalyst for developing revolutionary consciousness.

Contributors to Queer Korea, edited by Todd A. Henry, offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror.

The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century, tracing the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban African spaces. This collection is edited by Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon.

In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women’s political agency.

From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories.

In Seeing by Electricity, Doron Galili traces television’s early history, from the fantastical devices initially imagined fifty years before the first television prototypes to the emergence of broadcast television in the 1930s, showing how television was always discussed and treated in relation to cinema.

Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves provide a critical account of the history and future of automation in warfare in Killer Apps by highlighting the threats posed by the latest advances in media technology and artificial intelligence.

Originally published in German in 1978 and appearing here in English for the first time, the second volume of Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance depicts anti-fascist resistance, radical proletarian political movements, and the relationship between art and resistance from the late 1930s to World War II.

Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop by Sarah Eckhardt accompanies the exhibition of the photography of Virginia artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop that opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020. We are distributing it for the museum.

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The Most Read Articles of 2019

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.

Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy” by Alice E. Marwick
Public Culture volume 27, issue 1 (75)

Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” by Donna Haraway
Environmental Humanities volume 6, issue 1

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” by Cathy J. Cohen
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies volume 3, issue 4

After Trans Studies” by Andrea Long Chu and Emmett Harsin Drager
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 6, issue 1

Necropolitics” by Achille Mbembe
Public Culture volume 15, issue 1

Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads” by Jessica Marie Johnson
Social Text volume 36, issue 4 (137)

Twin-Spirited Woman: Sts’iyóye smestíyexw slhá:li” by Saylesh Wesley
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 1, issue 3

Gender and Nation Building in Qatar: Qatari Women Negotiate Modernity” by Alainna Liloia
Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies volume 15, issue 3

All Power to All People?: Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto” by Syrus Marcus Ware
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 4, issue 2

Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species: For Donna Haraway” by Anna Tsing
Environmental Humanities volume 1, issue 1