This interview is part of our New Faculty Profile Series, which highlights faculty who have joined the Literature Program in recent years.
Dr. Jesse Jack (she/they) is a Visiting Lecturer in Literature specializing in Transgender (Trans*) Studies and Feminist and Queer literatures. Their publications include “Reclaiming a Transgender History: The Intertextual Life of Charlotte Charke.” English: Journal of the English Association, Oxford University Press, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1093/english/efaa022; “Loy’s Migrations: Interactive StoryMap.” Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde, edited by Suzanne W. Churchill, Linda Kinnahan, and Susan Rosenbaum, 2019. https://mina-loy.com/maps/mina-loys-migrations-2/.
Their recent conference presentations include “Cultural Specificity and Rhetorical Intertextuality: Kai Cheng Thom and Trans* Poetics.” Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA, 2023; “Reimagining Trans* Morphologies and Reading Practices in Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl.” Presented at The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, University of Louisville, Louisville, KT, 2022; and “A Post-Transexual Whitman: Intertextual Consciousness in 1859 Leaves of Grass,” Presented at Northeast Modern Language Association’s 51st Convention: “Shaping and Sharing Identities: Spaces, Places, Languages, and Cultures,” Boston, MA, 2020.
The following interview was conducted as responses to written questions and has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
When did you begin teaching in Pitt's literature program? Which are the courses you typically teach?
I began teaching in both the Literature and Composition programs at Pitt during the Fall 2021 Semester as a Part-Time Instructor. Beginning in the Fall 2022 semester, I have been teaching full time (three courses) in literature as a Visiting Lecturer. I have taught courses across the Children’s Literature Program, including: “Representing Adolescence,” “Harry Potter: Blood, Culture, Power,” and the recitations for the “Children and Culture” capstone course. I also teach (and will continue to teach) “Sexuality and Representation” and am teaching “Queer and Transgender Literature” in the Spring of 2023.
What are your primary fields of research and teaching?
I specialize in the emergent field of Transgender (Trans*) Studies as well as Feminist and Queer literatures. I primarily focus on 20th and 21st Century, American Literatures, but my research tends to move transnationally and across time periods. My most recent research interests include transgender archival studies, intertextual rhetorics and creative writing, and emergent LGBTQIA+ social theories. I am also interested in the meaningful connections that can be drawn between Transgender and Queer Studies and Post-Colonial/Global Literatures more broadly.
Would you describe your journey toward these topics?
As an LGBTQIA+ advocate, ally, and individual, I believe that literary criticism and social theory can and should be written in such a way that the empiric needs and realities of the LGBTQIA+ community are addressed. As a transgender woman myself, I have used my research as a means for addressing my own needs in order to produce the kind of critical frameworks and research that I would have wanted to have had access to when I first began my gender-transing journey. In my courses, I encourage students to similarly inquire into the relationships between the written word and the empiric realities of specific communities to ensure that the academic discourse and production that occur in my courses are non-alienating and offer meaningful avenues through which students can express their existing literacies and experiences.
Which questions motivate your teaching and writing?
As an instructor, how can I empower the existing experiences and literacies that students have prior to entering the classroom space? In regard to the transfer of course content and ideas, how can I provide students with useful tools for analyzing not only literature but their socio-political realities more broadly? In regard to assignment structure and lesson designs, how can I inclusively honor and respect the language and learning differences of my students? In regard to my humanistic pedagogical approach, how can my courses foster diversity, equity, and inclusion and provide students with the tools they may need to address the empiric concerns, needs, and realities of their own communities?
Would you speak about your approach to teaching, maybe by sharing a bit about a recent course--its texts, concerns, assignments, projects, etc.?
In my courses, I ensure that the majority of assigned readings and texts are written by and for individuals from diverse communities. Most of my courses spend ample time discussing disabled and neurodiverse, feminist, LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and non-Western perspectives on either gender and sexuality, young adult literature, and/or childhood depending on the nature of the class. For example, in “Sexuality and Representation,” the only two required texts to purchase are written by transgender individuals addressing their unique, culturally-specific experiences and needs. My courses also use literature as a vehicle for understanding and recognizing the operation of various socio-political powers across contexts, and I often try to include cross-disciplinary sources to resist falling into the narrow silos that already exist in parts of higher education. For example, to reference the “Sexuality and Representation” course again, my students come to understand issues of gender and sexuality from the contexts of archives and history-making, counter-cultural storytelling practices, the medical field, various surveillance and biopolitical technologies, and the relationship between certain genres (like the autobiography) to all of these subjects. My hope is to provide students with content that will be meaningful for them as individuals and as scholars across academia regardless of their chosen majors.
Was there a teacher, mentor, family member, event, book (or some combination thereof!) that shaped your thinking, teaching, and your desire to study literature professionally?
Allow me to offer a short anecdote about the power of diverse and inclusive representation in the classroom. I decided to trans my gender and begin identifying as a woman while I was sitting in an undergraduate, Global Sociology, classroom. For the first time in my life, I was confronted with a diverse and inclusive representation of the transgender community in an academically respectful way. During that class, I saw myself *for the first time* reflected in the experiences of individuals within a larger community. Not only did I leave that classroom with the language to express my life-long feelings, but I left that classroom space feeling less alone in the world. The labors (hidden and visible) of faculty in the humanities go far beyond service to a discipline and, frequently, offer a human service to the entire student population that promotes inviting cultures on campus and wellness across the University.
Do you have a project on the horizon that you are excited about and would want to share here?
I am currently working on a book proposal, which I would like to keep under-wraps for now. But, I can say it will be about trends in emergent, transnational, and gender-transing literatures.
What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of the literature program/university life?
For every faculty, staff, or student individual reading this profile, I *highly* recommend nurturing your interests outside of academia. Build a world for yourself where you can be vulnerable, where the expectations are not so high, and where you can explore different parts of your complex human experience. For me, I regularly practice meditation and yoga, and I have a deep love for tea blending and tea culture. My kitchen is filled with dried herbs, flowers, and teas, which I blend and brew in always-changing combinations depending on my needs on a given day. Currently, I am sipping on a hearty coffee-alternative of mine, which consists of ashwagandha, roasted chicory, and roasted dandelion root, as well as dark chocolate “nibs” and cinnamon chips.
What are you reading right now?
Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox (One World Press, 2018)
What is one book you wish more people would read?
Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (Duke University Press, 1999)