I'm a professor in the Humanities program, where I teach undergraduate and graduate courses focusing on American culture, music and society; literary and musical modernisms; literary and cultural theory; and, when I get a chance, the culture and history of New Orleans.
My scholarly work has focused on music's place in American cultures and imaginations. In a series of articles and then my first book, Sounding Real: Musicality and American Literature at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, I explored a pivotal moment in American music (with the rise of Tin Pan Alley, ragtime, "Indianist" composers, and American divas) as it was registered by and in American fiction.
Since then, I've moved from thinking about the representation of musicality to thinking about its formation. I'm interested in how people, cultures, and subcultures become musical. I ask what forms of musical literacy are available in particular times and place and how different forms of literacy are promoted, abandoned, or suppressed. These questions have informed work on a new book (tentatively called Democratizing Music: Émigré European Modernists and American Musical Literacy) that traces the efforts of a group of avant-garde émigré musicians to inform and reform American musical literacy in the decade immediately following their arrival in the 1930s.
During 2018/19 I will be teaching American literature at the University of Ghana in Legon (Accra) as a Fulbright Scholar and engaging in some new research. In the context of my teaching teaching, I will be exploring how American literary narratives speak to contemporary West African college students, and how my students speak back to those narratives, in the context of their broader encounters with American perspectives through music, film, television, and political discourse. I will also be immersing myself as much as possible in contemporary Ghanaian musical and literary culture.
My interest in music stems from my lifelong practice as a violinist and chamber musician. I have a Masters in Music Performance from the New England Conservatory and worked professionally in various orchestras before deciding, in part because of repetitive injuries to my hand, to switch gears and head back to school. I received my Ph.D. from Yale in English Literature in 1997, and have been teaching at SF State ever since.