Dr. Emily Ruth Rutter is Assistant Professor of English and the Ball Brothers Honors College Faculty Fellow. She is the author of two books: Invisible Ball of Dreams: Literary Representations of Baseball behind the Color Line (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) and The Blues Muse: Race, Gender, and Musical Celebrity in American Poetry (University of Alabama Press, 2018). Her numerous essays have been published in journals such as African American Review, South Atlantic Review, Aethlon, and MELUS. Her book chapter on African American women poets appears in A Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century American Women’s Poetry, and a book chapter on Amiri Baraka and sports is forthcoming in Some Other Blues: New Perspectives on Amiri Baraka (Ohio State UP, 2021). She is also a co-editor of Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (Routledge, 2019).
What led you to apply for the Honors Faculty Fellowship?
I have had the pleasure of working with many Honors College students in the past, and I have found them to be especially engaged and conscientious. Moreover, I relish opportunities to strengthen ties between my scholarship and teaching, and I can imagine no better opportunity than the Honors College Faculty Fellowship to ensure reciprocity between my work in the classroom and my research outside of it.
What project are you putting forth for the fellowship?
My current book project explores American literature’s intervention in African American cultural history. In addition to my two books and co-edited collection on distinct aspects of this topic, I am at work on a new book, entitled Black Celebrity: Contemporary Literary Representations of Postbellum, Pre-Harlem Renaissance Athletes and Artists. Framed by theories of archives, race, and celebrity, I consider recent novels by Jeffery Renard Allen and Caryl Phillips and poetry collections by Tyehimba Jess, Frank X Walker, Adrian Matejka, and Kevin Young. Inhabiting the first-person perspectives of the first wave of black star athletes and entertainers, including Jack Johnson, Bert Williams, and Sissieretta Jones, among others, these novelists and poets elucidate the paradox of increased socioeconomic mobility and white scrutiny accompanying black stardom. As I demonstrate, America’s “love-hate” relationship with figures such as LeBron James and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (to name only two examples) can be traced back to the patterns of racialized cultural dissonance set in motion in the decades following the Civil War.
As an Honors professor, you have students from a wide variety of majors in your classroom. How does this shape class discussion?
If we think about the classroom as a microcosm of our society, as I do, then the Honors classroom is a particularly rich sociocultural and political space. We are all coming from distinct backgrounds and have committed to working with one another in the pursuit of fresh insights. Learning how to engage in dialogue, however difficult, is crucial to realizing the goals of a just society, and the Honors classroom helps to strengthen that skill. From what I have experienced thus far, Honors students are more than equipped to engage in these rewarding interdisciplinary conversations
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
In the classroom, I am strongly committed to helping a diverse group of students think within and across boundaries of culture and tradition. Although there are times when mini-lectures are necessary, my role as an instructor is not primarily to disseminate knowledge, but to help students learn how to mature as thinkers and writers. To this end, my courses facilitate a series of difficult dialogues about literary representations of race, gender, class, and sexuality, among other forms of identity and difference. These dialogues enable students to view a song or a memoir as much more than entertainment or an aesthetic object; instead, they develop an understanding of these texts both as having recognizable social traction and as vehicles for forging a keener sense of how to ethically negotiate a multicultural landscape. Moreover, I aim for students to recognize that their own writing and course projects have the potential both to effect social change and to influence live cultural conversations.
Are you working on any other exciting projects currently?
I am co-editing a special double issue of the journal Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, entitled “Women and Archives” (forthcoming Spring and Fall 2021). In these issues, my co-editor, Laura Engel, and I consider the dual function of archives as sites that reinforce social inequities on the one hand and engender counternarratives on the other. Since so much of academic research hinges on archival excavation in one form or another, we believe that it is crucial for scholars and students to reflect on methods of inclusion and exclusion, as well as our relationship to the artifacts we examine.
Dr. Rutter will be leading an Honors College lecture on Monday, October 21, 2019, titled “Archival Dilemmas and Creative Solutions.” Read more about the event here.