Little Women in 2020: Reclaiming the Perversity of Jo’s Fate

During the current crisis, the Department of Languages and Literatures at Hastings College has created a new online community for faculty, students, alumni, and friends of the department to connect: the Gold Room. I’ve just added my take on the new adaptation of Little Women, partly as a response to a post by a recent graduate who just read the novel for the first time. Please check it out!


Finding One’s Feet and Friends After Grad School

I recently came across Junior Prof: Confessions of an Assistant Professor Working Toward Tenure, a blog that—as its anonymous author explains—contributes a less visible perspective on the conversation about professional life ongoing in academic circles. The eponymous Junior Prof is a fellow 2018 PhD graduate and thus also in their first year of being an Assistant Professor, able to look back upon the job market experience as well as reflect on the challenges of their current position. As someone who has blogged about “What Do Graduate Students Do All Day?” I loved that Junior Prof shared their weekly calendar and I have been inspired to conduct a similar experiment before the end of the semester. Watch this space! There were two aspects of life as a new Assistant Professor that hadn’t yet been tackled in my new hero’s blog and I thought I would risk my own “take” on them in this forum.

Conferencing as an Early Career Scholar

 I recently attended one of my favorite conferences, run by Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies, and it was my first foray into a brave new world where my title and affiliation were respectively more and less prestigious. (The only people who had heard of my new institution were competitors for my job, which was deeply uncanny.) I was not terribly nervous as I felt I had so much less to prove now I’m on the tenure track, especially at a teaching-focused school to which I’m committed, and I was genuinely happy with the conversation at my panel as I wanted to know how to transform a part of my dissertation project into a possible standalone article. However, the experience of the conference as a whole felt very weird.

I felt myself drawn to the graduate students: after all, I had only just stopped being one and these were usually the people closest in age to me. However, I did worry that I was a sad and creepy loiterer who was merely reveling in the anecdotes from my glory days (imagine the aquarium scene in Pitch Perfect 3) and I was dispensing advice far too liberally. I do really want to support graduate students and share my experience, but it was odd to be looked up to as someone who “made it.” Meanwhile, even professors only a little ahead of me appeared as remote goddesses with published monographs to whom I was still a baby. (It doesn’t help that when I say I’m 30, I’m actually speaking from the future AKA May this year.) The very term “early career” indicates that we have acknowledged an “apartness” of these liminal scholars, teachers, and professors. Indeed, the conference organizers spoke about their plans for increasing support and involvement of this group during a lunch event.

The best moments for me at the conference were talking with people close in position to me with whom I could be real about my anxieties (most pressingly, can I even produce a book?) and it reminded me that I need to seek out connections and support for what I need now. I have a new cohort of fellow professionals and it’s fine that it might take a little while to identify them.

Making Friends as a New Person in Town and on Campus

On a related note to finding one’s new academic community, I also wanted to tackle the question raised by Junior Prof on their Twitter account, which wondered how other new assistant professors go about meeting people. My fiancé and I relocated to a different state and time zone for my new position last summer so we effectively removed ourselves over 1000 miles from our closest friends. I acknowledge the privilege of being (heteronormatively) partnered to a non-academic who was able to secure employment relatively quickly, although it’s also come with a huge amount of guilt and assumed responsibility for his happiness. One difficulty was that my colleagues became our most usual social circle, with all the talking shop ad nauseam that comes with that. This does mean, thought, that I have been lucky enough to socialize with and even make real human connections with people who work at the college. Yesterday I had lunch with a colleague and it literally preserved my sanity on a hump of a hump day. I really do recommend reaching out to see who will have coffee or lunch, especially among other junior faculty.

However, as I have remarked before, it’s also really key to have friends outside the workplace. The incredible small town I live in has helped because it’s a tightknit community (who aren’t too unkind when an outsider tries to chisel their way in!) and we have such amazing events as “Women, Wine, and Wilderness” evenings at a local outdoor center. (My fiancé refers to these empowering occasions of food and fellowship as “communing with the moon goddess,” which is accurate, if patronizing.) The person who has made me feel most connected to this new community and, indeed, the first person I actually fully relaxed around (cue insane word vomit) is someone I met at such an event. The takeaway from my experience is, of course, to find and attend events. While you are at them, talk to people and hand out your phone number. It’s awkward and difficult to make friends as an adult, but openness and persistence go a long way. I’m really trying to take the initiative as a naturally extroverted person to become the person I needed (and found!) when I moved here by creating spaces and events, especially for other women, where we can feel supported as ourselves. People need people, even academics!

I’m still lonelier than I have been in a long time and worry about staying connected to existing friends while I go through another life change. It does feel like Nebraskans look askance at me as a childless atheist. But it’s certainly getting easier as I find the people I need and that I hope may need me too in both my professional and personal life.

And, for sheer hilarity and visual interest, here’s a picture of me (after a workout and in my old glasses) trying on my regalia like a BOSS in preparation for attending graduation as a professor in May. I look like a teenager at a Harry Potter-themed party:


Relocating the Ivory Tower: On Professing Literature in Nebraska

Like Tom in The Glass Menagerie, I have a poet’s weakness for symbols. One of my greatest challenges in teaching an introductory literature course this semester has ironically been convincing students to read literally. Beginning the semester with Wordsworth’s The Prelude (the two-book version from 1799 rather than the epic poem it later became) I found myself making such bold critiques in discussion such as “the cliff is not a metaphor” and “yes, when he says he is rowing a boat, he is, indeed, rowing a boat.” This shouldn’t surprise us when there are jokes circulating the Internet about the range of concepts Melville’s white whale can be said to embody or the significance of blue curtains. (I recall seeing such snippets on the walls of colleagues’ offices as if fellow instructors need to display the bullshit preemptively.) My students seemed especially keen to make Wordsworth’s nature into a symbol for his displaced grief at being orphaned. They were right to find his isolation shocking as they encountered the Romantic poet as individual genius for the first time. My dissertation research found The Prelude to be strikingly peopled, but such a claim’s marketability rests upon its unlikeliness, of course. My research also engaged carefully with the question of anthropomorphism i.e. the extent to which Wordsworth is throwing his own voice and subjectivity into inanimate objects. My preference—especially in these ecocritical times—is instead to recognize the alien forms of animation in Nature, as I think Wordsworth demands that we do. The cliff is a cliff in all its sublimity. The point of The Prelude is that Wordsworth doesn’t quite know where he is going or how he feels or why he remembers. Telling freshmen “that’s a great question!” means that they found one without an answer.

The above reflections are intended as a tiny window into my current existence as my first semester as an Assistant Professor is fully underway. I am constantly in a state of exhausting surprise and discovery. What I thought I knew and what I believed I was ready for have firmly crashed against the reality of what I have to learn and what I need to prepare for. Right now I have a document entitled “Future Classes” to collect any and all ideas for the 13 courses that are on my schedule for the next two academic years. These courses are all new to me and, indeed, many of them are new to the college. To my great delight and abject fear, I have joined Hastings College at a time of unprecedented transition. Luckily and unlike many of my current colleagues, the evolution of Hastings College can’t possibly be a shock to my system because I am barely cognizant of the status quo. Having only a passing acquaintance of Hastings 1.0, the new operating system might as well be the only one to my unformed neural pathways.


McCormick Hall at Hastings College: home to faculty and students since the college’s founding (you can find me in the basement!)

Very few new professors get the opportunity to participate in the development of an entirely new curriculum. None of us, of course, feel like we should, considering the black hole that is our experience and knowledge (at least, to our minds). It has been an incredibly rewarding and eye-opening experience to be able to see Hastings 2.0 as it emerges from cross-campus collaboration. One of the perks of being at a small institution is that it’s actually possible to have full department, division, and college meetings of faculty in which we actually do some of the work of building and refining the curriculum. I loved working at the Writing Center and with the Graduate Employee Union at UConn for this very reason: the view could finally be from above and not from below.

A small liberal arts college is also a place where student anonymity is impossible. There’s a safety net—especially because of our increasing dedication to student engagement—that simply cannot exist at larger institutions, and it’s heartwarming to realize that both my students and myself are members of a meaningfully knowable community. Our connections are more lasting; our perspectives on each other are richer. In embracing absolute newness in my life this year, I am also attempting to embrace a permanence that has never seemed available before. (How to live in the happily ever after? I’m getting married too, remember.) I need to be careful, of course. I have taken advice. I have read many applicable “self-help” books for new faculty. Considering how and when to get involved, what and how much to contribute, and handling the external expectations and internal probabilities of productive commitment: this appears the primary minefield for the assistant professor. I’ll let you know when I’ve made it successfully across.

I wake up by 7.30 am. I teach at 9am. I grade papers. I read course texts. I drink the coffee one of my kindest colleagues brews. I teach at 1pm. I plan classes. I write assignments. I try to leave by 5pm.

I attempt to rinse. I always repeat.

It’s relentless. I have never spent so many hours leading classes. I have never had so many students with their needs and desires and challenges and joys and impossibly unique lives.

I’m homesick for the home that this college and town could become.






In Which Our Plucky Heroine Gets Her Happy Beginning

It happened in a Laundromat. I was reading Adam Bede while my friend switched her laundry over. My phone had been at full volume and on prominent display for several days. Earlier that week, a call from a car rental company had nearly launched my pregnant colleague into early labor. But this wasn’t a false alarm. I was suddenly hot, heart-pounding, tears-welling. It was an effort to sound calm and detached, to avoid showing my hand.

“I’m calling with what I hope you will see as good news regarding our search…”

Last week at a minor league baseball game I overheard a slightly younger woman expressing jealousy for the players, most of them younger than us both and paid to play a sport they loved. I crowed to my partner that I wasn’t jealous at all, but that might be (imagine my smarmiest of tones) because I finally owned a home, had a PhD, and was about to start a tenure-track job. The analogy doesn’t quite hold but the minors look a lot like graduate school, players being paid a pittance to be taken less seriously than those doing similar work to them. I had been called up to the majors when so many others hadn’t yet and might never be at all.

Joy is a fragile emotion compared to the realities of guilt. My guilt at surviving, however, serves as wholly unproductive unless it motivates me to participate in changing the structural issues in academia. These are very real issues to which my work with union movements has only begun to expose me. After you read this narrative of triumph, you also need to read my colleague Erin Bartram’s piece about the grief of those left behind. Any and all comments I make in this post should not be regarded as contradicting or counteracting Erin’s argument, an argument of far more value than my own musings here.

There is plenty of data I can share with you about my search. I was in my fourth year of the PhD program and I had written four chapters of a dissertation. I had eleven conference presentations and six peer-reviewed articles listed on my CV. But… but… but… I felt as though my insanely busy previous year of conferences wasn’t enough because I hadn’t been accepted to the North American Victorian Studies Association’s conference. I felt as though my articles weren’t closely related enough to my major fields and hadn’t appeared in prestigious enough venues. I thought the many special issues I had been featured in demonstrated my need for an easier submission process. However successful I might have appeared, the external achievements never adjusted my internal assessment. I knew then what I know now with more vigor. There is no formula. I can attempt to justify my luck by quantifying my success, but then I can also compare myself to many others without tenure-track jobs who would beat me in any statistical match up.

And yet, dear readers, you’re now reading the words of Dr. Reeds, shortly to be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures at Hastings College in Nebraska. My job search was a short one as I interviewed on campus in early January. It was also a limited one as my remaining year of funding and visa status led to a focus only on tenure-track jobs that sponsored international candidates. I applied for thirty-one jobs in sixteen states. The first rejection stung more than I expected. A small liberal arts college in a rural-but-not-too-rural place in the Midwest feels perfect. I might stay forever.

If I have any advice to offer based on my own experience of graduate school, it’s extremely limited. Move through the process as quickly and steadily as you can. Find the people who will read your work and inspire you with their own, and who will respond as kindly to your 4am doubts as you try to theirs. Hold onto them with all your loving might. Take up running—or whatever mindful hobby or exercise finally does the trick for you. Do not be afraid to throw your ideas out into the world. Go to therapy. Go to therapy again. Remember that you are already doing what you love and the ultimate success would be someone allowing you to continue doing it for a lifetime.

How do I feel? Probably how I look in this photo of my defense celebrations. Loved. Exhausted. Thrilled. Relieved. Ready.


A Cautionary Tale in the Age of Click Bait: An Interview with Dr. Benjamin R. Meagher on Communicating Research to the Public

When I applied for my current role as Coordinator for Graduate Writing Support over 18 months ago, my cover letter mentioned the importance of preparing academics to communicate the value of their research to the public. Such a task seems increasingly urgent as the Trump administration repeatedly ignores sound scientific evidence and threatens agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities with funding cuts. During my tenure at UConn’s Writing Center, I have often worked with graduate students on their publications, and this summer I co-facilitated a Fellowship Writing Institute for students applying for grants from the National Science Foundation and other bodies. In workshops, seminars, and tutorials, I often remind graduate students that, while the credibility of academic writing is closely connected to its nuance and complexity, writers also need to emphasize the contribution made by their scholarship in the clearest terms possible. We discuss the audience of different documents and how to appeal to particular readers, especially beyond our own disciplinary communities. While we may dream of our research being widely disseminated, there are considerable challenges along the way. As part of my efforts to support graduate students in developing the necessary skills for becoming a truly public intellectual, I recently reached out to a friend and former colleague of mine to hear about exactly what happened when his research went viral.

Screenshot 2017-08-04 14.39.07


Dr. Benjamin R. Meagher graduated from the Department of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, where his dissertation research in environmental psychology investigated why residents perform better in their territories than visitors. Ben speaks warmly of the opportunities he enjoyed to collaborate on research with a range of faculty members while at UConn and, indeed, he was offered a postdoctoral fellowship at Baylor University based on his experience with a statistical method that was of interest to a researcher there. The studies Ben worked on at Baylor were designed to compare different methodologies for assessing intellectual humility, specifically through examining consensus among judgments of intellectual humility by others after different periods of working together. When this work was published, Baylor University wrote a press release that eventually made its way to news outlets, including the Huffington Post, in articles that, according to Ben, “went wild” with “egregious interpretations.” So what happened?


Screenshot 2017-08-04 14.38.36


The person who wrote this release spoke to me over the phone, and it was clear that she was searching for the “hook” that would get people interested in the study. This write-up went through many different drafts, but the emphasis gradually pulled away from the actual original purpose of the study and instead gravitated toward one small correlation that was included as a part of Study 2. We found a small positive correlation with self-identifying as arrogant and your final class grade. The change in focus was gradual and, in retrospect, something I probably should have prevented. But at the time I wasn’t devoting a ton of energy towards thinking about this. I thought it was kind of neat that the university was paying attention to it at all, and I was not particularly high on the totem pole. Once the outside press got the release and wanted to write about it, they went wild with the implications, saying that arrogance will help you get ahead professionally at the office.

I think clearly, in this case, what drove the writing of these articles was the production of click bait. Saying arrogance is a good thing is a terrible thing to say so people will click on the link to get outraged. Once I read a few of the more egregious interpretations, I was motivated to try to move the focus back to the real goal of the article. I was actually pre-interviewed by NPR’s Morning Edition about the article, but I could tell that the person I spoke with became less and less interested in the topic as I spoke to him about the much less interesting nitty-gritty of methodology. Not surprisingly, they decided not to have me on air. After that, I was honestly a little burnt out from it.

I asked Ben if he had any advice for other researchers facing the problematic ways that science can be communicated beyond the academy.

Well, I suppose I would say that one key thing is to try to nip things in the bud as early as you can. It’s ultimately a game of telephone, with your results getting filtered more and more the further removed you get from it. So while your research consists of multiple analyses and moderating factors, its final state as someone might see it is in .gif form. So the more you can do to drive the narrative at the start, the better. Clearly that may involve resisting the persuasive techniques of someone in media relations telling you how fascinating a piece of your research is, since it is quite likely that what will happen is that it will be taken out of context from all the boundary conditions and caveats you yourself wrote about in your original piece.

Screenshot 2017-08-04 14.37.54

Since leaving Baylor, Ben has taught at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania and will be returning to research at Hope College in Michigan this fall, where his wife, Dr. Christiana Salah, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English. Ben’s next project is part of UConn’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life program and will be funded by the Templeton Foundation. Ben describes his professional trajectory as a series of “funny examples” of how his “career ends up getting guided by the side projects [he] more or less stumbled into by working with other people,” perhaps indicating that a breadth of interests and a willingness to work outside one’s comfort zone can be productive for practical as well as intellectual reasons. His experiences with publication have been “a mix of frustrating rejections and satisfying successes” as he reflected that psychology journals can tend to look for “perfectly “clean” results with enormous effects.” Meanwhile, Ben has discovered that what can capture the public’s imagination—or rather what journalists believe might—can be very far from a study’s really meaningful results.

My thanks are due to Ben for allowing me to share his experiences with readers. I am hoping to turn this into a series of interviews with academics who have had interesting experiences with their research in the big wide world so let me know if you have any suggestions!

Finally, please make sure to read the original study from Ben and his colleagues here:

Meagher, B. R., Leman, J. C., Bias, J. P., Latendresse, S. J., & Rowatt, W. C. (2015). Contrasting self-report and consensus ratings of intellectual humility and arrogance. Journal of Research in Personality, 58, 35-45. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2015.07.002


Behind in the Count: Playing Baseball While Black

The other day a close friend of mine, who has been an Orioles fan since babyhood, asked me what I thought about Adam Jones. The “best MLBer and an Oriole” had just experienced racially motivated abuse at Fenway Park and was calling for harsher penalties for such racist fans. According to ESPN, “this wasn’t the first time he has been subjected to such treatment at Fenway. This time, however, Jones said he felt compelled to speak out.”


Adam Jones, unofficially known as “Captain America,” at the 2017 World Baseball Classic


The reason my friend reached out to me is because of my scholarly interest in the history of black baseball. My article on two recent children’s books that narrate the integration of Major League Baseball appeared last year in a special issue of Children’s Literature Association Quarterly on genre and black literature, edited by Sara Austin and Karen Chandler. Writing that article meant that I learned a lot about the hardships that faced the Negro Leagues and the first black players to cross the color line. However, while researching the relationship of young African Americans to America’s national pastime, I discovered this history of exclusion was ongoing. A quick Google search for “black children baseball” showed that baseball no longer attracted, if it ever had, African American children in the twenty-first century. I only had to turn to the second page of search results to find an incident of violence against black children: several news sources reported that a Florida woman had chased black children with a baseball bat, threatening to lynch their families. The baseball bat seems more likely to be used as a tool of violence against black children than to be held in their hands as a piece of sporting equipment.


Several questions motivated my research into baseball and black children’s culture: how are African American children invited to perceive their bodies as sources of physical prowess that might become capital? What is the place of play, joy, and even anger in African American baseball? Does baseball successfully include African American children in the nation? Does it invite them to become conscious of historical black success? What forms of value does playing baseball offer for an African American child?

While my article eventually offered an analysis of more contemporary children’s literature, along the way I explored the educational magazine, Ebony Jr! which ran from 1973 to 1985. I discovered the popularity of Hank Aaron among black child readers who wrote in to the magazine: twelve year old Rudolph Knott wanted to speak to his hero, imagining what his emotional life might be, while Corey Harper hoped that Hank would teach him how to play. It seems that “Hammerin Hank” was not too unique to be worthy of emulation: as one advice article concluded, “Maybe there will never be another Hank Aaron. But if you follow these tips, you’ll at least be off to a good swinging start!”

Screenshot 2017-05-08 20.29.17

Jackie Robinson was another hero in the pages of Ebony Jr! The April 1976 issue included a play about his life, titled “Jackie Robinson – Something Else!” The script includes interviews with Robinson’s mother and siblings before his rise to fame and with his wife once he had become successful. The person who describes Jackie Robinson as “Something else!” is a racist fan who is converted over the course of the play by Jackie’s achievements. I wonder whether any black children acted out this play and who they choose to take the role of the fan shouting racial slurs. Those children have grown up to attend baseball games alongside fans who still behave as though black lives do not matter on or off the field.


The story of black baseball, like other narratives of black participation in American society, is not a story of even progress. It is a story of strides forward accompanied by continued frustration at sometimes even greater strides backward. Heartbreakingly, an all-black Little League team, Jackie Robinson West from Chicago, won the US Championship in 2014 but were stripped of their title after player eligibility fraud was discovered. The team’s attorney, Victor Henderson, went on the record: “Do I think race is at play? Yes, I do think it’s at play at some level.”


The reason that my friend believes Adam Jones is the greatest current Major League Baseball player is because of Jones’ willingness to speak out against racial injustice in baseball and in American society. There is a limit to what Jones can do, however, as a black man in a predominantly white sport. When asked whether or not he would join in protests against the National Anthem that were sweeping football and basketball teams last fall, Adam Jones told reporters that he didn’t feel safe doing so: “We already have two strikes against us.”

Teaching Transatlantic Romanticism

I recently contributed to the latest thematic installment of a blog series, Teaching Romanticism, hosted on the website of a major journal: Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780-1840. Christopher Stampone has put together three constellations on “Teaching Transatlantic Romanticism,” including some of my thoughts about the transatlantic circulation of narrative form, using Charles Brockden Brown and William Godwin’s mutual influence as a case study. Please check it out!



On Raising Your Hand and Other Dangerous Moves

I have been tempted back into the blogging world by the insight and brevity of my colleague, Micah Goodrich, who has provided an emancipatory model for my writing and thinking over the past few days. I had already been contemplating a post on an observation that was in excess of my current dissertation research, once again planning to use this blog to siphon off my thoughts. I recently read D.A. Miller’s seminal book from 1988 on The Novel and the Police, which is much better than I even anticipated, but what I thrilled to most was Miller’s foreword: “But Officer…”.

Even the blandest (or bluffest) “scholarly work” fears getting into trouble: less with the adversaries whose particular attacks it keeps busy anticipating than through what, but for the spectacle of this very activity, might be perceived as an overall lack of authorization. It is as though, unless the work at once assumed its most densely professional form, it would somehow get unplugged from whatever power station (the academy, the specialization) enables it to speak. Nothing expresses—or allays—this separation anxiety better than the protocol requiring an introduction to “situate” the work within its institutional and discursive matrix.

Forgive me for quoting at length Miller’s discussion of the “nervous ritual.” I hope I have the courage to recall it when I reach the point of writing my dissertation’s introduction, when I am wrestling with the “dread of being asocial—of failing to furnish the proper authorities with one’s papers.” I have been reflecting on his words recently, however, because I have been thinking so often of my own position in the academy, the exercise of my own voice in negotiation with the authorities to whom I relentlessly proffer papers (including this electronic one). The dilemma I have been contemplating turns on the problem of the academy as a power station. What does it mean if we begin to shortcircuit it? By this, I mean: what happens when we take a critical apparatus that the academy has bestowed upon us and begin to throw it back in academia’s face? To turn to yet another metaphor, what if we bite the hand that not only feeds us but that gave us those teeth to begin with?

The inspiration for all of us feminist killjoys out there, Sara Ahmed, resigned from her institutional position. I’m far from there yet. But I am also recognizing, especially when it comes to issues of labor, what is at stake when we stand up to the universities that employ us to do the very work of criticism that brings their own operations under scrutiny. Especially as a graduate student, what have I brought upon myself by questioning a hierarchy and confronting a mechanism that might police me?

Hermione Granger was an inspirational feminist killjoy for me as a child. There are more radical possibilities for such a character but J.K. Rowling still gifted me a much needed heroine. Hermione has read all the books. Hermione has all the answers. Hermione always raises her hand. Such actions do not make Hermione a teacher’s pet, a cog in the system. Hermione starts an advocacy campaign. Hermione calls out the men who rely upon her unseen labor. Hermione participates in a revolution. These are endeavors in which the willingness to raise one’s hand transforms a girl who refuses to speak less into a woman who is prepared to take the consequences.

I’m not Hermione. I might need to tread much more carefully. But she taught me that the school swot can go on strike.

Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni) photo by Charlie Gray_0