SPRING 2024 A.K. Smith Scholars Series Schedule

Cary Howie

“Romance, Fantasy, and Other Religious Experiences”

Wednesday, March 6, 4:30 p.m. – Reese Room, Smith House 

 Romance and fantasy are words that get a lot of mileage out of their ambiguity. After all, they name modern literary genres that owe a debt to medieval genres—think castles, think kisses—even as they name more basic, if no less ironic, ways of figuring desire: “a fine romance”; “a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby.” At their best (and maybe always) romance and fantasy exceed the very scripts they give us: we might come for the dragons (or the breeches) but we stay for something more. That “more” could, of course, be quantitative: more dragons, more breeches! But it could also, if we’re lucky, be the “more” that the world becomes, that the world is in fact revealed always to have been, if we look closely and generously enough—if, that is, we allow it to sweep us off our feet. To put this a little differently: if our world’s recurring problem is that it seems altogether disenchanted, how might we, as folks for whom reading and thinking and imagining matter, take up the challenge of re-enchanting that world? How might our romances and our fantasies (in every sense) make, in fact, a real as well as an imagined difference? As I try to live up to these questions, I can at least promise some promiscuous reading, anachronistic pleasure, queerness, and monks. 

Cary’s writing and teaching tend to put medieval literature into conversation with modern practices and preoccupations. In his classes he attempts to give students the freedom to explore aspects of their intellectual and embodied lives that are usually overlooked in more traditional academic settings. He is interested in breaking down familiar boundaries between academic and literary languages, as well as cultivating new ways of asking old questions, especially questions about the body and the soul, in the variously rich vocabularies of English, French, Italian and Latin. He is the author of essays on medieval gender and sexuality; on the difficulty of letting go; on meditation, mysticism, and saints’ lives; and on a range of authors from Rutebeuf to Dante, Marie de France to Shakespeare

Dixa Ramirez-D’Oleo

“The Trickster in the Cave: Unseen Realms, Photography, and the Black Caribbean”

Wednesday, March 27, 4:30 p.m. – Reese Room, Smith House 

In this talk, I meditate on the question of technology, specifically photography, in relation to spiritual and anomalous phenomena such as spirits or ghosts, otherworldly beings, and events that exceed Western modernity’s conceptions of time and space. I do so by focusing on the multimedia poetry of Kamau Brathwaite and the choreography of Ligia Lewis, with detours to Plato, Susan Sontag, and Afro-Caribbean magico-spiritual practices. The talk is a section of my forthcoming book Blackness and the Photographic Negative. 

Dr. Dixa Ramírez-D’Oleo is associate professor of English at Brown University. She has published two books: Colonial Phantoms: Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (2018, NYU Press), which received the 2019 Barbara Christian Literary Award from the Caribbean Studies Association and the 2019 Isis Duarte Book Prize, Haiti/Dominican Republic Section of the Latin American Studies Association, and This Will Not Be Generative (2023, Cambridge University Press). She is finishing two monographs: Blackness and the Photographic Negative, forthcoming from Duke University Press and A Personal History of Mysticism. Her writing has appeared in ASAP/Journal, Atlantic Studies, Avidly, The Black Scholar, Comparative Literature, Hyperallergic, Interventions, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Small Axe, and Social Text. She also serves on the Editorial Committee of Small Axe. 

Matt Seybold

“Catfishing Mark Twain: Frederick Douglass, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Percival Everett’s James

Wednesday, April 3, 4:30 p.m. – Reese Room, Smith House 

On March 19th of this year, Doubleday published a new novel by Percival Everett, for which they reportedly paid more than $500,000, by far the biggest advance of Everett’s long and now quite-decorated career. The novel, James, is an adaptation of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, told from the perspective of Huck’s self-emancipated traveling companion, Jim. Seybold argues that Everett’s novel will be many things to many readers, among them an incisive work of Twain Studies, as the narrative directly addresses many of the critical controversies associated with Huckleberry Finn since its publication.

Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as Resident Scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies. He is also the founding director of the Media Studies, Communications, & Design program at Elmira College, executive producer and host of The American Vandal Podcast, and founding editor of MarkTwainStudies.org. He is co-editor (with Michelle Chihara) of The Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018) and (with Gordon Hutner) of a 2019 special issue of American Literary History on “Economics & Literary Studies in The New Gilded Age.” His work has appeared in dozens of publications.


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