I am a cultural historian who specializes in U.S. racial formation from the nineteenth century to the present. A graduate of Yale's doctoral program in American Studies and an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society, I am the Dillon Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. I am also a faculty member in Harvard's doctoral program in American Studies and undergraduate program in Theater, Dance, and Media. From 2018 through 2023, I hold a Harvard College Professorship, which recognizes “particularly distinguished contributions to undergraduate teaching and to creating a positive influence in the culture of teaching in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.” In 2021, I received the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award, an honor conferred by the Graduate Student Council at Harvard University. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I am currently completing a book, The Trials of William Freeman: A Story of Murder, Race, and America's First Industrial Prison (under contract, University of Chicago Press).
My most recent book, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, won five awards: the Outstanding Book Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (co-winner), the Grace Abbott Best Book Award from the Society for the History of Children and Youth, the Book Award from the Children's Literature Association, the Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize from the New England American Studies Association, and the IRSCL Award from the International Research Society for Children's Literature. Racial Innocence was also a runner-up for the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Publication Prize and received an Honorable Mention for the Book Award from the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. My other books include the anthology Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater (University of Michigan Press) and a Jewish feminist children's book titled Terrible, Terrible! With Stephanie Batiste and Brian Herrera, I edit the book series Performance and American Cultures for New York University Press.
I have published articles on subjects ranging across performance, race, childhood, and US cultural history in PMLA, Social Text, African American Review, American Literature, Theatre Journal, Modern Drama, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, and many other journals. My article, "'You Do It!': Going-to-Bed Books and the Scripts of Children's Literature," received the 2021 William Riley Parker Prize for an outstanding article in PMLA, and “Utopian Movements: Nikki Giovanni and the Convocation Following the Virginia Tech Massacre” won African American Review’s 2014 Darwin T. Turner Award for “the best essay representing any period in African American or pan-African literature and culture.” My 2009 article "Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race," which was published in Social Text, won two prizes: the Outstanding Article award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and the Vera Mowry Roberts Award for Research and Publication, given by the American Theatre and Drama Society.
Much of my current work addresses general readers. I recently published the forgotten 1897 slave narrative of Jane Clark, who liberated herself from slavery in Maryland by undergoing an arduous three-year journey that ended in Auburn, New York in 1859. The full text of the narrative (which was penned by a white amanuensis), along with my annotations and an introduction that verifies and contextualizes Jane Clark's story, was published in 2018 in Commonplace, an online journal of accessible history for lay readers. I also write opinion pieces, including op eds and academic advice. The New York Times published my op ed "Let Black Kids Just Be Kids" in July 2017, and Harvard Magazine published "Being Alive Together: Stephen Sondheim, Omicron, and the Power of Theater" in 2021. I publish academic advice columns in Chronicle of Higher Education, including"The Art of ‘No,’" "Can You Reverse a Defeatist Habit that Sabotages Your Writing?," "You are Not a Public Utility," "Banish the Smarm: Effective Networking is Sincere, Deep, and Generous," and "How to Talk to Famous Professors."
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