Q: What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
A. When I first wake up I check to see if I have text messages from anyone who might have reached out to me while I was asleep, and then my Twitter feed to see whether anything newsworthy happened overnight.
Q: What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print vs. online vs. mobile?
A. I read The New York Times online, along with select articles from The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, AP, Black Agenda Report, The New Yorker, and The Chronicle (and some others news sites, here and there.) I read fashion, general interest, and writing magazines in print.
Q: What is the best article you’ve read recently?
A. It’s hard for me identify a single best article I’ve read recently. But I continue to believe in the importance of the academic article. Some extraordinary ideas are better suited to article length than book-length. I also appreciate long-form journalism. A well-researched and written article or a pressing topic with a humane perspective is an important and (currently) under appreciated art.
Q: What books have you recently read? How do they stand out?
A. At the beginning of the summer I read Toni Morrison’s Home. It is stunningly restrained. The silences brought me to tears at least three times, and I am in awe of how she has meditated on love, loss, error, intimacy and community, throughout her corpus. This book is a culmination of so many of her themes, but without any grand finale style melodrama. It is pitch perfect. Although A Mercy, Beloved, and Sula are still my favorites.
I also recently reread Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. I love the confidence she had in her ideas, her willingness to explore and be vulnerable as a thinker. Academics need to recover some of that. We research, but we also have imaginations that ought to be exercised.
Right now, I am reading Gil Scott Heron’s memoir and it’s smart and moving in many ways, but in particular I’m taken with the affection he had for Southern black English, and for Stevie Wonder as a fellow musician. There’s something so beautiful about genius adoring genius. I’m also making my way (slowly) through Martha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. It’s really intellectually exciting so I find myself stopping to take notes constantly.
Q: Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years?
A. Well, from 2002 to 2009 I taught law school so I read law reviews regularly during that period to keep abreast of the field. Now I read articles that are specifically related to what I’m teaching and writing. My article searches are more subject matter driven these days. Whereas I used to read something simply because it was in the American Quarterly, Law and Literature, or Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, for example. I really appreciate the digitization of academic journals because I find fantastic pieces in small, less prestigious journals via subject matter searches. It puts the lie to the idea that the “best” work is always in the “best” journals.
Q: The book as object: Is it a pleasure, necessity, anachronism?
A. For me, the book holds immense aesthetic appeal. I like the smell of the paper, the varying fonts, the sound of a new spine cracking, the weight in my palm. Give me a cup of tea, a good book, and a cotton blanket on a rainy day and I’m blissful. I do read some books on my iPad, but I am still basically an analog person. As a reader, I find that the physical book facilitates deeper contemplation and care. I linger in books. Plus, there is a delicious nostalgia when you open one up and see handwritten notes in the margin that you put there 10, 15, 20 years prior.
Q: What is your next book project?
I’m working on two books: One is on gender. It is indebted to, but ultimately challenges, intersectionality theory, and is rooted in an analysis of the politics of gendered representation and identification in the digital and neoliberal age. The other is a book about the black national anthem: “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” And there is a third project which I’m not yet ready to explain.
Q: You have more than 9,500 followers on Twitter, how has the medium affected your scholarship and everyday life?
A. Twitter has been an incredible breath of fresh air. It is a place for dialogue and debate with fellow scholars as well as people from many other walks of life. It is a wonderful source for news and information that is rarely covered in the mainstream. This is essential for me given my left-wing politics. I want to learn about and understand what’s going on in the world at large, particularly with poor and marginalized people here and abroad, and not have that information constrained by the frames of the two-party system.
Social media is impacting my scholarship because it has me thinking about the politics of representation and self-representation in new ways. It forces new considerations of what is truthful and what is artifice, and even basic things like a person’s personality. For example: on Twitter I am pretty extroverted. In day to day life I am shy and introverted. Both are authentic expressions.
Q: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?
A. I feel zero guilt about any media that I consume. I guess that’s partly because I came up in the cultural-studies moment of the early 1990s. As far as I am concerned, virtually all texts are worthy of being consumed and considered to some degree. So I’m particular but eclectic in my taste. But I suppose the best answer is fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar because even though they often have good articles, I purchase them principally because I love the romance of looking at beautiful clothing and accessories in artfully staged scenes. Also, on every beach vacation I read Stephen Carter novels because they’re long, complicated, mysterious, and filled with people very similar to many folks I know. I guess I could say YouTube too, I love all the footage of live musical performances, and the videos of new dances that I’m no longer young enough to witness firsthand at parties and clubs.
Drawing of Imani Perry by Ted Benson