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.”

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.”

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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

Working with Living Authors: An Update on the John Temple Papers

As a scholar of nineteenth-century poetry, the authors I write about remain blissfully ignorant of my attempts to parse their literary productions and, equally, I remain blissfully ignorant of their possible corrective responses to my research. There’s a certain liberty one can take when the object of one’s criticism is beyond talking back. However, working with the papers of John Temple has revealed to me just how generous and helpful contemporary authors can be to the scholars that focus on their work. In October, I exchanged several emails with John Temple as he recorded his initial reactions to my online exhibition. I am deeply relieved that he described my readings of his poems as “perceptive and careful” as well as “genuinely revealing.” I was also thrilled to be able to incorporate some of his insights and reflections into the exhibition itself. For example, he caught a transcriptional error and was able to gloss some mid-Atlantic “hiptalk” for me. He also offered extensive reflections on “The Sisterhood,” perhaps the most opaque poem I chose to work with. Visitors can now browse an updated version of the curated poems with his comments included.

During this revision process, it was a real pleasure to return to the John Temple Papers several months after their launch, an event which Melissa Watterworth Batt of the Dodd Center wrote about warmly, describing the project as “an inventive peeling back and applying of layers of technological onion skin.” I will be showcasing the exhibition at the launch of the UConn Department of English’s Digital Lab in the new year and my theorization of poetic revision has had surprising relevance to my other research recently. At the International Conference on Romanticism this October, I presented on Wordsworth and beginnings, leading to a discussion with one colleague on my resistance to privileging either original inspiration or teleological perfection as an editor of the Temple papers.

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This fall John was kind enough to send me an inscribed copy of The Ridge, from which I took the three poems that are the focus of the exhibition, and re-reading the volume has led me to notice many fresh aspects of the collection as a whole. In the context of our current political climate on both sides of the Atlantic, I was struck by “Euphemes His England,” a poem that juxtaposes the prudence advocated by Machiavelli with Ted Heath’s comments on immigration. The references to the fading “rhythm-loving in-bred” empire also stood out to me and I reveled anew in Temple’s dynamic imagery, perhaps best encapsulated in his description of the “licking flames / over the rim of the dark earth” as “no will o’ wisp… but the ever-present / sign of the interred star” (“South”). John also sent me a copy of his 2003 essay, “Source of Desire: on John Wieners’ ‘Cocaine.’” We are both deeply invested in close reading and John’s response to Keston Sutherland was most concerned with a single verb, “fade.” As I begin my dissertation on the reader’s encounters with genre in the nineteenth century, John’s words on Wieners will stay with me:

Sutherland’s vivid sense of Wieners as supremely ‘destitute of a world’ certainly accords with the (considerable) extent of our willingness to read what he writes in the light of what we think he means to write. We supply that world to an unusual degree. But in the great poetry it is a common world that, in stumbling on, he gifts us first.

I thank John Temple for the world he has gifted me.

WDGSDAD? Final Installment

For reasons that will be explained near the close of my post, this will be my last installment of “What Do Graduate Students Do All Day?” and I will compose some reflections at its end.

7.45 I wake and hop into the shower. I am certainly one of those people who can do their best thinking at the most inconvenient times (just before I fall asleep, while driving, and so on) and this morning was no exception. I still can’t say with certainty whether or not I shampooed my hair once or twice as I was mentally preparing for today’s meeting and totally lost track.

9.00 Leave home.

9.20 Arrive at the English department. As I am about to start reading emails in a friend’s office, I notice my water bottle has leaked over my bag and have to rescue my possessions, including many of my dissertation notes.

9.40 Slightly less flustered than I was a few minutes previously, I meet with the Associate Director of the Writing Center.

10.20 We head over to share our resources and answer questions at a department faculty meeting. It was wonderful to hear about their graduate students and how they are currently supporting them as well as to consider new initiatives.

11.05 After the meeting, Kathleen and I debrief over coffee. This is also a rare opportunity to hear from an academic I highly respect about her career and her family. As I anticipate several babies joining me along the road to becoming a tenured professor, it matters so much to hear about other people’s experiences. I am grateful for my colleague, Sarah Moon, who was another inspiration for this blog with her incredibly powerful account of a usual day as a graduate student with a small child.

12.25 Stopping by the department office, I get the opportunity to catch up with some colleagues about life beyond our work.

1.10 Head home to enjoy some lunch and relax.

2.00 I spend around half hour working through both Writing Center and research-related emails.

5.30 I am back on my laptop for around forty minutes to contact the kind colleagues who will be covering our writing retreat tomorrow. My original plan for Saturday was to document how the Writing Center runs these events and how I am able to use them to write myself, including some information on what drafting a chapter might look and feel like. However, I will instead be travelling out of state tomorrow to visit my partner’s family as his grandfather is extremely sick. The boundless generosity of my colleagues in jumping to my aid means more than I can say.

Work for Writing Center: 3 hours 40 minutes

 Research time: 15 minutes (+ possible reading time this evening)

Total: 3 hours 55 minutes

I won’t really be able to illustrate my average working week, and won’t even attempt to by summing up these daily hours, because a more productive day today and tomorrow would have brought these numbers up considerably. For example, a usual retreat involves around 2 hours of work for the Writing Center and 6 hours for research time.

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The weeks that I didn’t blog about can certainly look like this comic from Piled Higher and Deeper 

One number I also want to share, however, is my step count! I find it difficult to find the time and energy for exercising during the semester so I’m an avid walker. I’m pleased that my days on campus this week all averaged around 5000 steps as my average for October was closer to 4000 steps per day, according to my iPhone.

During our conversation today, Kathleen reflected on how women’s time, in particular, can be scrutinized and this is especially true of academics. Why would I or others blog like this if we didn’t anticipate a prurient interest?! However, this exercise was not designed to provoke guilt in either myself or others, although the former certainly happened. So many other ways exist of quantifying my week that might be more productive and certainly the qualitative aspects matter even more. I may try this again in the future, despite how very exposing it felt to make this information public. We could all benefit from appreciating the many and diverse ways of living an academic life, and I hope my example leads to others with very different life challenges following suit.

Thank you for watching The Eleanor Show. Good afternoon, good evening, and good night!

WDGSDAD? Day Five

When I woke up this morning, I had to check because I thought I had only dreamt that the Cubs won the World Series. But it was true and 108 years of hurt are over. Good morning, Chicago: how’s your hangover? Apparently, UConn’s very own Jonathan the Husky got caught up in the celebrations. I had somewhat of a “meeting hangover” this morning but luckily I was able to take some time for myself today.

9.25 Arrive at the English department to open our Writing Center in that building for the day. I read and respond to emails, and do some preparation for a meeting tomorrow.

10.00 My first tutoring appointment hasn’t been booked so I use the time to continue skimming Coleridge’s letters. It’s hard to know whether to count this as Writing Center or research time as I am “on the clock” and, if I was paid hourly like most of our tutors instead of via my stipend, I would still be paid for unbooked appointments. I have to always be prepared for walk ins and to (wo)man the receptionist desk, after all.

11.00 My next appointment is booked, however, so I work with a student on a critical reflection essay: it’s about a play she saw about abusive relationships so I spend much of my time prompting her to analyze her reactions in more depth. After a forty-five minute appointment, I take the last section of the hour block to write up a “tutor note,” a summary of the session that is sent to the writer and—if they wish—their instructor.

12.00 We’re finally getting to a quieter time in the semester so again I don’t have an appointment. I was fully booked until some last minute cancellations so I’m partly relieved and partly disappointed. My shift last week was one of the best ever so I’ve been feeling more energized about my tutoring hours. I finally finish my current volume of Coleridge’s letters as he returns from a trip to Malta.

12.15 I start working on an outline of major ideas for the dissertation chapter I want to start drafting this weekend. Using pen and paper, I am able to materialize much of what has been circulating in my head for weeks.

1.00 I have an (re-scheduled) individual consultation with a seminar participant, including a detailed review of his article’s introduction.

1.40 I walk to the Student Union to grab lunch (my treat after packing sandwiches or leftovers so far this week!) and bump into a former student. He tells me he’s been accepted to the study abroad program for which I wrote him a recommendation letter, which is very exciting.

2.00 My afternoon of freedom begins. As I’m coming to campus for all of Saturday, I need some taste of a weekend! I run errands, including getting my car’s oil changed and picking up dry cleaning. I also stop by a friend’s house for tea and a catch up.

5.50 Back home, I transform into a domestic goddess: putting away laundry, making dinner, and doing dishes.

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I forgot to take a photo until making dinner so you all get to check out my quick risotto

7.45 Start this blog. I haven’t decided whether or not to read for some of this evening, but more likely I will take a breather so I have energy for writing after my meetings tomorrow morning.

Work for Writing Center: 2 hours 15 minutes (+ 2 potential hours counted below)

Research time: 2 hours

Total: 4 hours 15 minutes

I know I have been lucky enough to gather some readers for this blog so please let me know if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or reflections. As I look toward the end of my seven-day exercise in transparency, I know what I am learning, but what about you? How does this compare to your experiences or understandings of graduate school?

WDGSDAD? Day Four

Hump Day.

7.00 In shock at quite how dark it is this morning and, for once, I look forward to the clocks going back.

7.30 An email from a seminar participant prompts some revision of my plan for today’s session.

7.40 I find out that I know as much about Jane Austen as my mother.

8.15 Head to campus. I read the news on the shuttle bus from the parking lot.

8.40 Arrive at the English department, stop by my office, and then head to the classroom to set up.

9.00 The third session of the current Graduate Seminar in Academic Writing begins. Today was very focused on writer activities so I avoided hovering over them too much by triaging emails, reviewing a Writing Center conference’s call for papers, and reading a few work-related articles online. I still hovered (helpfully?) a lot.

11.10 Individual consultation with a seminar participant.

11.40 Send some emails and then walk over to the library.

12.00 I eat lunch during the Writing Center leadership team’s weekly staff meeting.

1.10 Again, I check emails.

1.15 In what will prove my only real break during this work day, I decide to venture out into the sunshine and grab a smoothie. I bump into a friend which makes this even more of a valuable time for self-care.

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A rare day of November sunshine, viewed from a conference room in the library

1.40 Back in my office, I grab the opportunity to look at more of Coleridge’s letters. He complains about swellings of the testicles repeatedly but also thrills at the birth of his daughter.

2.00 My office hours begin: I meet with two students from the seminar and conduct an intake meeting over the phone.

4.00 I head up to the Humanities Institute to hear a colleague’s presentation on iconoclasm in Renaissance literature. As always, George impresses with his clarity.

5.25 Having chatted with George and a professor about metaphor and Edmund Spenser, I walk back to my car.

5.45 I make it home and relax for the evening. Plans included some excellent chicken and a bonfire.

Work for the Writing Center: 6 hours 45 minutes

Research time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Total: 8 hours 30 minutes

Let me end with a moment of reflection. It is easy to become swept up in the minutiae of another busy day, but this is not how we count our days. Today, and indeed the last few days, have brought far more significant challenges and joys than I can recount by telling you about the details of my labor. The sun shone blindingly today, and it is what blinds us with tears of joy and grief that stays with us. I know I’m lucky to do what I love and be with who I love. I feel that more intensely than ever as I come to the end of a day that will never come back again.

WDGSDAD? Day Three

Apparently, I spoke too soon by blogging so early last night. I spent around 20 minutes reading work-related blogs after I posted and then, after some recuperation, I did some more work related to my professional goals, as detailed below.

8.15 Receive suggestions from a colleague on the abstract I drafted, which I then revise and submit.

8.45 Submit a packet for a creative writing prize at my institution and compile some initial ideas for a poetry reading I’ll be doing on Monday.

9.05 Retire for the evening for the second time.

This brings up my totals for Monday to a more representative amount.

Research time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Total: 7 hours 10 minutes

 

Now, let’s turn to Tuesday!

9.00 Awake and very much not raring to go.

10.10 Drive to campus.

10.30 Check emails in my Writing Center office.

10.35 Read more of Coleridge’s letters. I was particularly intrigued to see how he circulated an early version of “Dejection: An Ode” to his friends as though it was addressed to Wordsworth, when the original letter in verse was actually addressed to Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson.

11.00 Meet with a seminar participant. We talk through possibilities for the conclusion to his paper and he is even so kind as to hear a little about my research. I send a follow up email with my suggestions for revision.

12.05 Check the “tutor notes” i.e. summary reports from some of yesterday’s Writing Center appointments that I helped to set up.

12.10 Send a few texts and check Facebook before walking over to the English department and having lunch in the graduate lounge.

1.00 Talk to two colleagues who are strategizing for their general exams at the moment.

1.15 Meet with my advisor to discuss my prospectus.

2.15 Get coffee; receive good luck wishes from some kind colleagues.

2.30 Attend the colloquium for my dissertation prospectus, which was approved.

4.00 Feeling a little overwhelmed about what comes next with my dissertation, I head home.

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The Bermuda Triangle of my project, so succinctly depicted by one of my advisors.

4.35 Arrive home. Demand a hug and a compliment on my new shoes from my partner.

4.40 Make some minor edits to my prospectus, including reformatting the bibliography to conform to the latest, controversial version of MLA style.

5.15 Review the notes I took on feedback presented during the colloquium; add several items to my range of different reading lists.

5.45 Register for the 14 Day Writing Challenge, with an eye to the chapter I’m working on.

5.50 Skim an article on how the chapter came to be (by a critic recommended during the colloquium) and another article on haptic knowledge (forwarded to me by a colleague).

6.05 Head to the grocery store.

6.40 Arrive back on campus, snacks in tow, for a salon arranged by the Graduate Association for Literary Artists at UConn. I’m the treasurer and have brought some newer poems to share.

7.50 Leave campus and, after stopping at home briefly, head out to celebrate with my partner and a friend.

11.00 Back home from the bar. An email from my advisor prompts a few more revisions to the prospectus. I’ll need to print it out in the morning and submit it to the Graduate School.

11.15 Begin this blog before turning in for the night! It was an exhausting day.

I definitely checked my emails and “triaged” while we were out this evening, and I also should note some thinking time over the last few days. I often draft sentences for writing projects when my brain is moving toward or away from sleep.

Work for the Writing Center: 1 hour 20 minutes

Research (and service) time: 6 hours

Total: 7 hours 20 minutes

WDGSDAD? Day Two

We rejoin our plucky heroine on All Hallows’ Eve….

 8.20 Rise and shine!

9.00 Respond to a few emails for the Writing Center, while I’m finishing my cup of Earl Grey tea.

9.35 Leave for work.

10.00 Arrive at my office in the Writing Center. It takes me less than ten minutes to drive to campus but I have to park a rather long walk from where university business is actually conducted. Start preparing for today’s meetings and squeeze in reading two drafts for the seminar (one on the solar radiation of soil and one on immunization refusal).

11.45 Dash out for a quick coffee break. Both while in line and when I was walking earlier, I “triage” emails on my smartphone: skimming, deleting, filing, and deciding which are most urgent.

11.50 Back in my office. My Writing Center commitments today include several different meetings: two “intake” meetings with graduate students who want individual tutoring, two meetings with students in the seminar, and a phone call with a department chair about an upcoming meeting with relevant faculty.

2.20 Finish up in the Writing Center. I ate my lunch at my desk, while writing emails. Walk back to my car.

2.45 Decide to get an overdue eyebrow shape when I remember the salon by campus owes me a free one.

3.00 Finally make it home and immediately put on sweatpants. I was originally intending to work for the rest of the afternoon in my office in the English department—both of my offices are shared, by the way—but it was imperative for any possible productivity that I put on sweatpants [British English translation = jogging/tracksuit bottoms].

4.30 Rouse myself from a brief lie down as I wasn’t feeling well and turn to further preparation for my dissertation prospectus colloquium. Write up responses to questions I received this afternoon from a departmental reviewer.

5.30 Alleviate my despair at the theoretical holes in my project by watching an episode of a Freeform show on Netflix.

6.20 Review and revise my drafted responses.

6.35 Answer emails, both for my own research activities and for the Writing Center.

6.50 Retire for the evening. Pour a beer in honor of Keats; impress my partner with my Romantic poets trivia; do some dishes.

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Actual depiction of an eager graduate student trick or treating, courtesy of Shit Academics Say

I was hoping that—far from helping me to procrastinate on my work, as my dear sister suggested—tracking my time would make me more productive than usual. However, the DESPAIR of beginning a dissertation and the EXHAUSTION from a bevy of administrative meetings have defeated me today so I have decided to save my energy for the TRIAL BY COMBAT tomorrow. As you can probably tell, this evening is not an optimistic time for this academic.

Here’s hoping tomorrow brings me more energy.

P.S. Thank you to Laura for reminding me to post about total hours!

Work for Writing Center: 4 hours 35 minutes

Research time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Total: 6 hours