My research agenda reflects the foundational concerns of my teaching practice. I am especially driven to analyze the ways in which narrative form shapes our understanding of the world and our capacity to create change within it.
My dissertation, “Representations of Poverty in American Literary Journalism,” closely analyzes book-length works of narrative nonfiction written between the 1960s and mid-1980s. These texts, while disparate in methodology and content, expose the ideological constructions that buttress our understanding of the sources and consequences of poverty. My first chapter examines the specter of the “culture of poverty” theory—first made famous by Oscar Lewis’s ethnographic studies of Mexican and Puerto Rican families—as it appears in La vida real (1986), Miguel Barnet’s testimonial novel on the life of a Cuban émigré in New York City. Another chapter argues that Lawrence Wright’s City Children, Country Summer (1979) dramatizes the ways in which the Fresh Air Fund’s philanthropic mission is grafted onto racialized geographies of city and country. My final chapter explores how Ted Conover’s Rolling Nowhere (1984) pulls upon railroad narratives of the twentieth century to offer another vision of poverty beyond the “cultural deprivation” hypothesis that dominated psychological research of era. “Representations of Poverty” argues that literary journalism is an important corrective to mass media’s reliance on forms of scientific authority that can transmit damaging and often contradictory messages to the public. As I revise the manuscript for publication, I will widen the historical scope by adding a concluding chapter on Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family (2003), a powerful indictment of the War on Drugs and the criminalization of poverty that it has engendered.
Beyond the dissertation, my research examines literary journalism’s contingent relationship to other media across historical and political contexts. In an article published in The Comparatist, I analyze how the political and literary representations of cannibalism in modern China necessitate a style of investigative reportage that is ultimately at odds with standards of believability held by U.S. readers. In “Journalistic Critique through Parody in Stephen Crane’s ‘An Experiment in Misery’” published in Literary Journalism Studies, I read Crane’s well-known newspaper sketch as a parody, arguing that this device allows Crane to expose the ethical limitations of documenting the lives of the poor.