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. Among other recent publications, I have recently published an article on the apocalyptic imaginary in Margaret Atwood’s environmental disaster novel Oryx and Crake, a chapter on Huntington's disease for Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, and an article on superhero fantasy in Butler's Patternist series in Paradoxa's special issue on African SF. Forthcoming articles concern science fiction's relationship to energy politics, the Anthropocene, the military-industrial complex, computerized financial speculation, and geriatric medicine."
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) was published in spring 2014 by Wesleyan University Press and The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction which I co-edited with Eric Carl Link was just recently published in 2015 by 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.
- Twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature and culture
- Popular culture
- Contemporary world literature
- Literary and critical theory
- Science fiction
- Literature and popular culture
- Critical theory
- Transnational American studies
- Ecological humanities
- Octavia E. Butler, University of Illinois Press, 2016
- Co-edited a special issue of the journal Paradoxa (issue 28) titled "Global Weirding." (2016)
- "Death Immortalized." The New Inquiry (October 2016). http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/death-immortalized
- "We Have Never Been Star Trek." British Sight & Sound (September 2016): http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/star-trek-50-we-have-never-been-star-trek
- “Quiet, Too Quiet: Review of Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest.” Los Angeles Review of Books (February 2016): https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/quiet-too-quiet.
- "From 'A New Hope' to No Hope at All: 'Star Wars,' Tolkien, and the Sinister and Depressing Reality of Expanded Universes." Salon.com (December 2015): http://www.salon.com/2015/12/24/from_a_new_hope_to_no_hope_at_all_
- "Capital as Artificial Intelligence.” Journal of American Studies: “Fictions of Speculation” (October 2015), eds. Annie McClanahan and Hamilton Carroll: 1-25.
- “Anything Could Happen (And We Would Believe It).” New Orleans Review 41 (2015): 223-226.
- “The Warm Equations.” Los Angeles Review of Books. June 2015.
- Co-Editor with Eric Carl Link, The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
- Editor, Science Fiction Film and Television (Liverpool University Press, 2014-).
- Editor, Extrapolation (Liverpool University Press, 2014-).
- Co-Editor with Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction(Wesleyan University Press, 2014).
- “Knowing No One’s Listening: Octavia Butler’s Unexpected Stories” and “‘There’s Nothing New / Under The Sun, / But There Are New Suns’: Recovering Octavia E. Butler’s Lost Parables.” Los Angeles Review of Books (Summer 2014).
- "I'd Rather Be in Afghanistan: Antinomies of Battle: Los Angeles." Democratic Communique 26.2: "Media, Technology, and the Culture of Militarism: Watching, Playing and Struggling in the War Society." Eds. Robin Andersen and Tanner Mirrlees (Fall 2014): 39-54.
- "If the Engine Ever Stops, We'd All Die': Snowpiercer and Necrofuturism." Paradoxa 26: "SF Now." Eds. Mark Bould and A. Rhys Williams (Fall 2014): 41-66.
- “Bred to Be Superhuman: Comic Books and Afrofuturism in Octavia Butler's Patternist Series.” Paradoxa 25 (Fall 2013): 253-287.
- “Life Without Hope? Huntington’s Disease and Genetic Futurity.” Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. Ed. Kathryn Allan. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013: 169-187.
- “Hope, But Not for Us: Ecological Science Fiction and the End of the World in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood." Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory 23.2 (Summer 2012): 138-159.
- “Fighting a War You’ve Already Lost: Zombies and Zombis in Firefly and Dollhouse.” Science Fiction Film and Television 4.2 (Fall 2011): 173-204.
- Co-Editor with Priscilla Wald, American Literature 83.2: “Speculative Fictions” (2011).
- “‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative.” Extrapolation 51.3 (Fall 2010): 431-453.
- Co-Editor with Lisa Klarr and Ryan Vu, Polygraph 22: “Ecology and Ideology” (2010).
- Won the Way-Klingler Young Scholar Award, 2016.
- NEH course development grant: "Enduring Questions: What Is Worth Preserving?"
- Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Fellowship for Undergraduate Instruction, Duke University (2011-2012)
- R.D. Mullen Research Fellowship, Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature, University of California, Riverside (2010-2011)
- Travel Grants to the Nagoya American Studies Summer Seminar at Nanzan University, Japan, and the Clinton Institute for American Studies, University College Dublin, Ireland (2010, 2011)
- Jacob K. Javits Fellowship for Graduate Study in the Humanities (2002-2004)