My primary research interests lie in African American literature and culture, especially the Harlem Renaissance. I have also written several articles on postcolonial literature, especially writers of the South Asian diaspora such as Agha Shahid Ali and Anita Desai. My monograph, The Collage Aesthetic in the Harlem Renaissance (2009), which was awarded Honourable Mention in the British Association of American Studies book prize, explores the historical, aesthetic and political burdens of recurring collage patterns in the pages of New Negro texts. It interprets synthesis and fragmentation in the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke and Jean Toomer in relation to visual collage and Boasian anthropology, which understood culture as an assembly of diverse fragments rather than a coherent whole.
My current research focuses on representations of cultural encounter in specific cultural or religious institutions (including museums, churches and various educational contexts). I examine the representation of figures that have yet to receive sustained critical attention in African American modernist studies (including the museum visitor, the artist’s model, the preacher, the teacher and the child), reading these figures in the context of early twentieth-century political and cultural debates while also taking a longer historical view. In 2017, I will take up a Donald C. Gallup fellowship at the Beinecke Library to complete the research for ‘Education and Mis-education in the Harlem Renaissance,’ a project that assesses education as a neglected context (and an enduring thematic preoccupation) for the formulation of New Negro concepts of gender, class, modernity, activism and racial identity.