Meet the English Department’s Three New Faculty Members

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Quantá Holden

Duke University’s English Department will have three new Assistant Professors of English joining the faculty, during the fall of 2018.  Prof. Taylor Black will be joining the faculty from New York University, Prof. Mike D’Alessandro, from Harvard University and Prof. Jarvis McInnis, from Notre Dame University.

Bios and Classes Being Taught By the New Faculty During the Fall of 2017


Taylor Black –
 Prof. Black received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Rutgers University and has taught courses in American literature, feminist theory, and queer studies at Rutgers, Hunter College, and NYU. His academic specialties include 20th-century literature, American studies, the history of sexuality, Southern studies, rhetoric and aesthetics, autobiography, the gothic and grotesque, and assemblage theory.

Fall 2017 Courses:
English 373.01 | American Lit Cold War & After

Wednesdays and Fridays 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
This course takes up American Literature from the recent past.  While the Cold War (1945-1991) will mark a periodic or temporal container for the work we will study, the themes and characteristics emerging out of the Cold War will, however, precede that official historical marker and will linger through the decades into our present.  The U.S. cultural sensibilities from this time period can be marked by a wide and paradoxical range of descriptors: bold, paranoid, triumphal, satiric, extreme, utopic, isolated, and displaced.  We will add to this list as we analyze our objects and invent new ways to read into these not quite old and never quite retired or obsolete subjects and texts.  In that same spirit, we will conceive of this historical event as still in process, as not yet resolved, at every turn, stopping to consider the ways our texts figure into present conceptualizations of the nation and world. 

Each of the authors of novels, poems, songs and memoirs included in the course have produced very particular, even iconoclastic pieces of American literature that, at the same time, seem to be representative of the times and places from which they emerge as well as strange in and of themselves. We will place these texts next to cultural paraphernalia (television commercials, political manifestos, game shows, stand-up comedy etc.) in order to reckon with what we see on the page.

Expect to read authors such as: Octavia Butler, Bob Dylan, Nikki Giovanni, Fran Lebowitz, Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal.  Participation will matter a great deal in the course and, in addition to that, students will be expected to complete three short (5-8 page) essays.

English 890S.05 | Survival
Tuesdays 4:40 p.m. – 7:10 p.m.
“If survival has just one affective mode, it might be defiance.”



Mike D’Alessandro - Prof. D’Alessandro comes to Duke University from Harvard, where he has been teaching in the History and Literature program.  He specializes in nineteenth-century American Literature and Theater History—having earned both a Ph.D. in English from Boston University and an MFA in Dramaturgy from Yale.  Prof. D’Allesandro’s teaching interests range from “American Romanticism” to “Occult, Utopias, and Dystopias in American Literature” to “The City in Modern American Drama.”  

Fall 2017 Courses:
English 269.01 | Classics of American Lit:  1820-1860

Wednesdays and Fridays 8:30 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.
What makes a “classic” of American literature? Why do a handful of texts endure while others have fallen by the wayside? By reading a variety of well-known texts from the U.S.’s arguably most prolific period of early literature, we pose—and attempt to answer—these questions. While the syllabus contains many texts that have long remained in the canon, our course also includes works that have reappeared through recent historical recovery. Collectively, these texts illuminate pivotal political debates, social movements, gender struggles, and ethnic clashes from 1820 to 1860. Though each class focuses on a distinct subject or author, we also ask questions about the progression (and often regression) of American culture. For instance, how did early America’s women writers carve out spaces as authors and activists? How did authors of color circumvent or undermine a dominant white culture through their writings? How did American writers engage gothic and occult trends gaining popularity in the U.S.?  Texts include Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as works by Dickinson, Melville, Douglass, and Poe. Cinematic adaptations will be central to the class; films will include Dario Argento’s The Black Cat (1990), Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999), and 12 Years a Slave (2015). Evaluation will be based on multiple exams, a series of short essays, and class participation.

English 890S.02 | Transatlantic Melodrama
Fridays 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
We will attempt to track how melodrama remained such a valuable political weapon as it migrated through France, England, and the U.S.



Jarvis McInnis - Prof. McInnis earned his Ph.D. at Columbia, and comes to Duke University after a post-doc at Princeton and a faculty position at Notre Dame.  He specializes in African American Literature and culture, with a particular interest in the Global Black South, including the Caribbean.  His current research focuses on the “Afterlives of the Plantation,” but he is also interested in Sound Studies and the relationship between literature and anthropology.

Fall 2017 Courses:
English 184S.02 | Conjure in African American Lit

Wednesdays and Fridays 10:05 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.
Known variously as conjure and hoodoo in the United States, Vodou in Haiti, Obeah in Jamaica, and Santería in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, African-derived spiritual, healing, and magic practices survived in the Americas despite slavery’s inordinate brutalities and consistent efforts to eradicate them. Bringing together writers from the United States and the Caribbean, this course will explore how enslaved Africans and their descendants retained and remade their knowledge of the supernatural world as strategies of resistance and agency, healing and survival. Reading across a range of literary genres—including the southern gothic, magical realism, and historical fiction—as well as anthropology, we will mobilize conjure (and its Caribbean variants) to chart a hemispheric conception of African Diaspora literature. Readings include works by Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Alejo Carpentier, Gloria Naylor, Maryse Condé, and Erna Brodber, among others. It may also include representations of conjure in film and television. Some questions we may take up include: What is the sociopolitical function of conjure in African Diaspora literature and culture? How are these practices gendered in the tradition? How does conjure converge with and/or depart from Judeo-Christian religious practices and notions of Western rationality? What alternative epistemologies and ontologies emerge from the space and practice of conjure?


Duke University’s English Department welcomes Taylor Black, Mike D’Alessandro, and Jarvis McInnis to the family.