I am Professor of British and American Literature and Gender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses at Penn, and advise individual students at both levels on their writing and career preparation. I supervise Ph.D. dissertations and undergraduate honors theses. My main job is research and publication.
My most recent book, Force or Fraud: British Seduction Stories and the Problem of Resistance, 1660-1760, asks what is gained, and by whom, when we distinguish “rape” from “seduction” based on the resistance or consent of subordinated persons – usually, women. This way of distinguishing rape from seduction began to be the cultural default in the West after about 1700; I look at its history. One of my arguments is that “consent” is necessarily a problematic notion, not a straightforward experience, in encounters where one person (or group) has more power than another.
What do you do best?
Listen. Ask questions. Revise.
What makes you the best?
I don’t think of myself as “the best,” but as someone always working alongside others to do better in particular situations.
What are your aspirations?
1) to practice generous and informed ways of thinking, and to show students the pleasure that comes from learning.
2) to ask better questions.
3) to communicate with thoughtful people outside academia.
4) to contribute to precision and generosity in public discourse.
5) to live up to this directive: “Pay attention. Practice kindness. Don’t judge."
Writing well (occasionally). Feeling wonder (often). Learning to appreciate the opportunities I’ve had and the people who have invested in me.
Most Challenging Moment?
Repetitive-stress injuries led to serious nerve damage and threatened my ability to go on writing.
So many! Here is one that seems to be always sounding in my head at the moment:
“Today will never come again.”
My great-aunt, Martha T. Bowers, showed me that a successful person finds joy, works steadily, keeps promises, and cares about others.
Lakes, preferably with loons.
The reading chair in my apartment.
An empty lane in the pool.
The Los Padres National Forest.
The Pacific coast.
A particular person, now dead but not gone, whose memory is a place where I go every day.
Music of all kinds – but I think of music as more of an experience than a product.
Songwriting, tap-dancing, cooking, singing in a local gospel choir.