New Faculty

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Tyler Bickford joined us this year as an assistant professor in Twentieth Century Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies.

Tyler received his PhD with distinction from Columbia University in 2011. His research explored how schoolchildren use mobile communication technologies. He has studied the relationships between children’s expressive culture and new media, combining detailed ethnographic insight into children’s interactional and communicative practices around media with theoretical, historical, and social analysis. His research is grounded in the emerging literature on the internet, social media, and gaming, especially around core new media issues of privacy, peer-to-peer file sharing, amateur production, and media convergence. Tyler has intensive training in qualitative methods (especially ethnographic fieldwork and linguistic and discourse analysis), and he is familiar with emerging approaches to online research. He is also deeply influenced by the theoretical approach of childhood studies, which understands children and childhood to represent a culturally constructed field of social difference and inequality. He views Childhood Studies as building on, and making significant contributions to, recent work in feminist theory, disability studies, and queer theory.

He is currently working on a new research project about cultural, technological, and commercial changes that have led to the dramatic expansion in the “tween” music industry over the last generation. These developments represent a sea change in the status of children as media audiences and as a burgeoning and newly powerful counterpublic. Building on a recent article in the Journal Popular Music, Tyler is writing a book that will complement the ethnographic work in his dissertation with a broader historical and cultural perspective.

Tyler served as a full-time postdoctoral lecturer in Columbia’s Core Curriculum; he also taught media and childhood studies in the Media, Culture, and Communication department at NYU. In 2011 he received Columbia University’s Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching—its highest teaching honor for graduate students.

Autumn Womack joined us this year as an assistant professor in African American Literature and Culture.

Autumn received her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her dissertation, “Social Document Fictions: Science, Visual Culture, and African American Literature, 1850-1930,” explores the intersection of social science, fiction, and visual culture in nineteenth and early twentieth century black life and argues that the genre of “social document fiction” – a form of writing that joins social science and the fantastic – is a productive site where these overlaps come into focus.

Bringing together fiction (short stories, serial novels, and bound novels), personal correspondence, periodicals, photography, and early sound recording, Womack highlights key moments in the careers of Martin Delany, Sutton Griggs, Kelly Miller, W.E.B. DuBois and Zora Neale Hurston to show how black intellectuals deployed fiction writing to manage their competing status as both participants in a vibrant black public life and practitioners of the “neutral” sciences. She sees science and visual culture as perceptual regimes that refract new racial epistemologies, and she argues that social document fiction articulates a poetics and politics of black sociality that exceeds the generic boundaries of social science and American realism.

Autumn has had several years of teaching experience, ranging from a large introductory writing course to a smaller Post Reconstruction Black Literature seminar that she designed.  

Imani Owens will join us in fall 2014 as an assistant professor in African American Literature and Culture.  She will be on leave this year to take a post-doctoral position at Princeton University.

Imani received her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her dissertation, “‘At the Crossroads’: African American and Caribbean Writers in the Interwar Period,” charts discourses of folk culture, empire, and modernity in the works of six African American and Caribbean writers. Her study pairs a writer from the U.S. with a writer from the Anglophone, Francophone or Spanish-speaking Caribbean: Jean Toomer and Eric Walrond; Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén; and Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Price-Mars.

These writers engage the concept of modernity by turning to those people and places that are conspicuously absent from dominant narratives of modern progress. With a deep and sustained interest in the masses and vernacular culture, these writers turn to the remnants of the Southern plantation, the Caribbean “backwoods,” the inner city slums and other “elsewheres” presumably left behind by history. Imani considers how writers such as Jean Toomer and Eric Walrond theorize the modernity of the folk in these spaces. She explores how this interest translates into literary practices—such as Guillén and Hughes’ crafting of a poetics informed by black music, or Hurston and Price-Mars’ use of the narrative structures of Haitian folklore in their ethnographic studies on Haiti.  She argues most importantly that the relationship between these various representations of local folk culture should not be theorized solely in terms of their connection to an African diaspora, but more specifically to U.S. empire. 

Imani has held several teaching positions over the years and is currently a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Fellow and Riley Scholar-in-Residence in the English Department at Colorado College where she taught a course on Blues Poetics in the fall and is teaching a course on African American Literature and the Post Modern City this spring. In addition she has served as a seminar leader for a Literary Texts, Critical Methods course and as a teaching or graduate assistant for several other courses while at Columbia University. She received the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Summer Teaching Scholar Award in 2010.