I primarily teach courses in contemporary American literature and popular culture, exploring the ways that authors, filmmakers, and other artists have explored and critiqued the conditions of contemporary life through their creative work. My courses are centered around vigorous class discussion and frequent short written responses, culminating in a final research project on a subject of each student’s choosing. I find that this approach to learning encourages my students to seek interdisciplinary connections between the subjects of my courses and their own work in other classes and majors, fostering their development as independent thinkers and scholars. I have always been struck by Kenneth Burke’s characterization of academic discourse in “The Philosophy of Literary Form” as a discussion at a party to which we arrive late and from which we must also depart early. I feel the most important work we can do as educators in the humanities is to position our students to enter such conversations across the academy and across society at large: to provide students with access to what has already been said, to help them express themselves knowledgeably with eloquence and poise, and to instill within them the confidence that what they have to say genuinely matters.
My research and publication has primarily focused on one of the most culturally important and globally influential genres of the postwar United States: science fiction. In my work I seek to establish science fiction as a cornerstone for literary study and critical theory, as well as speak to larger questions about the role of the imagination in political and cultural life. My study of science fiction reveals a paradigm that fundamentally structures the way we think about the world; where once the hegemonic language of the future was religious eschatology, I believe it is now predominantly the speculations of science fiction that frame our collective imagination of our possible futures. In our moment, it is science fiction that attempts to articulate the sorts of massive social changes that are imminent, or already happening, and begins to imagine what life on a transformed globe might be like for those who will come to live on it.
I am currently at work on two book projects, the first a critical monograph on science fiction and totality and the second an in-depth consideration of the career of Octavia Butler for the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series at University of Illinois Press. I have recently published two articles on race, violence, and utopia in zombie narrative in Extrapolation and Science Fiction Film and Television, as well as an article on the apocalyptic imaginary in Margaret Atwood’s environmental disaster novel Oryx and Crake and a chapter on Huntington's disease in science fiction for Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. An article on superhero fantasy in Butler's Patternist series is forthcoming from Paradoxa.
I am the co-editor of special issues of American Literature and Polygraph on “speculative fiction” and “ecology and ideology,” respectively. My edited critical anthology, Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction (co-edited with Kim Stanley Robinson) will be published next year by Wesleyan University Press; I am also currently editing The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction with Eric Carl Link for Cambridge University Press.
I regularly offer courses in 20th and 21st century literature, science fiction, comic books, and the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien. In spring 2013 and spring 2014, I will offer a special topics course in cultural preservation that I have developed through an "Enduring Questions" grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.