The Department of English and Comparative Literature is delighted to announce the next installment of its new series of events, First Books. These events celebrate first book publications by recent Columbia English PhDs, and feature contributions from the author, a Columbia faculty member, and a current Columbia graduate student.
This upcoming First Books event features Jean-Christophe Cloutier, PhD 2013, now assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. His first monograph, Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature (Columbia University Press, 2019), recasts the history of African American literature and brings to life a slew of newly discovered texts—including Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth—to tell the stories of black special collections and their struggle for institutional recognition. Alongside readings of major African American writers, including McKay, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, and Ralph Ellison, Cloutier provides a nuanced view of how archival methodology, access, and the power dynamics of acquisitions shape literary history. Given the lack of institutions dedicated to the black experience, the novel became an alternative site of historical preservation, a means to ensure both individual legacy and group survival. Such archivism manifests in the work of these authors through evolving lifecycles where documents undergo repurposing, revision, insertion, falsification, transformation, and fictionalization, sometimes across decades. An innovative interdisciplinary consideration of literary papers, Shadow Archives proposes new ways for literary scholars to engage with the archive.
Prof. Cloutier will be joined by Prof. Farah Griffin and Elleza Kelley. Moderated by Brent Hayes Edwards.