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Unlike my medievalist friends, I am able to contact many of the authors and artists who I write about! It is important for me, in both teaching and writing, to respect the integrity of the artworks I study and the artists who create them. Sometimes this means communicating with artists about my writing, sometimes just reminding myself to be honest in my analysis. As the editor of Latino/a Rising: an Anthology of U.S. Latino/a Speculative Fiction, I have been given a great opportunity to have some wonderful exchanges with some amazing artists!
There is no perfect blueprint that can be used to understand every novel or film. We can learn from the past, but each time we encounter a work of art should be a new and deep experience. When I began teaching I started to search for a way to provide my students with a space for this kind of deep engagement with literature. I discovered the Oxford University tutorial system, which I then adapted for my students. In this method I meet with a pair of students for an hour long discussion of their essays. The tutorials are challenging, highly effective, and enormously popular with students.
One of my most important goals is to continually unite my scholarly interests with my work for social justice. While they function under completely different sets of rules and values, they are nevertheless compatible. One memorable moment was when I invited the Puerto Rican artist Adál Maldonado to UMASS Amherst to talk about his work. While on campus, he met with students dealing with issues of migration, race, and cultural diversity in their art. He was able to draw from his own experience to show the students how they could form their challenges into inspiring art.
Literary studies is for me not only criticism, it is also promotion. In my work, it's about bringing to light the works of Latino/a writers who use science fiction to discuss migration. In the classes I teach, the normal dynamics are shifted. The students who are migrants become the experts, rather than the non-migrant students. Ideally this creates a dialogue among the group. Because Sabrina Vourvoulias' novel Ink is narrated by both migrants and non-migrants, I have found that it can stimulate a wonderful dialogue.
It is important for me to not only learn from the past, but to always look to my own experience. This means that I often try to innovate new ways to solve problems. An example from my graduate studies is the Crossroads Conference. I realized early on that what was missing was a forum for my colleagues to discuss their work outside of the classroom. So I helped start the Crossroads Conference, a biennial conference which is known for its creativity and openness to new forms of literary studies.
Because of my training in the multi-disciplinary field of Comparative Literature, I am often drawn to working with a variety of media. It is necessary to be aware of the history and specific language of each medium, but it should not hold us back from experiencing new forms of art. An understanding of electronic literature and digital poetry in particular requires this openness to multi-media analysis. Check out this poem "Nippon" by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and you'll see that a full study would have to take into account the music, graphics, film, narrative, etc. etc.
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