In continuation with our new faculty profiles, this week the Ball State English Department features Dr. Andrea Wolfe. Continue reading to see Andrea’s interview conducted by English Department intern Nakkia Patrick. Also, be sure to read the previous posts featuring new faculty members Dr. Miranda Nesler, Dr. Maria Windell, Prof. Liz Whiteacre, and Prof. John King.
How did you get interested in 20th century American literature?
I think that I was just interested in doing literature that was contemporary to my culture; the culture that I lived in. I wanted to examine the culture that was around me. I wanted to know my own culture and where I lived.
I noticed that you have a great deal of specializations in literature i.e. Women’s literature, African American Literature, Gender studies, Race Studies, and motherhood in literature and popular culture. What lead you to study so many things?
My dissertation is about representations of black mothers and the black maternal body in narratives of slavery, reconstruction, and segregation. So those are many of the topics that were from my dissertation, which is now a book manuscript. I sent it to the University of Georgia Press. The reason that I chose those topics when I started my dissertation research was because I’ve always been interested in motherhood and the maternal body. I had both of my children in grad school. So as I was working through my program, I was always thinking about those issues because I was living them. That was always at the forefront of my mind. I always knew I wanted to do something with the maternal body or motherhood.
At first, I didn’t know the direction I wanted to go with that. But when I was in an ethnic literature course, we were reading Chinamen by Maxine Hong Kingston. Although it had nothing to do with my areas of specialty, we were talking about how the men from China came over and were immediately employed to work on the railroad. As soon as their work was over, they were either told that they needed to return to China or they were expelled in other ways. They ended up doing jobs that held them at a low socioeconomic class and made it impossible for them to climb the economic ladder in any way. I felt like, as the book portrays, that the nation used them to build the infrastructure of the nation and then suppressed them. I became really interested in this incident and how the nation could do that.
So I linked that to motherhood somehow and began thinking about how people used black women over time to populate a labor force, especially in slavery. The nation used their maternal bodies as a source of profit. Then, as soon as slavery was over, a switch went off, and their maternal body became a debit. It became something negative and something the nation had to support. We viewed them as living off of the white middle class “real” American. So again, they were being used and expelled.
You focus a great deal on motherhood, so much so that you started a blog about it. Tell us a little about that.
I started this blog when I graduated with a PhD. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with my degree, and I needed an outlet for scholarly activity. So I began doing a lot of cultural analysis. I would look at videos, films or movements and start thinking about them, using my theoretical foundation and analyzing them. Then I started to get back into teaching again, so I started blogging about teaching and what I would do in the classroom. It’s been a great way for me to continue to be scholarly without writing big chunks of analysis. I see each one of my entries as something I could go back and write a large article about, but this is a way for me to write analytically in a smaller way.
Tell me a little bit about your book project and how it’s going.
It started out as my dissertation. I let it sit for about three or four months. But I took some of the feedback others had given me and let it sink in. So I started shifting things and let other things fall into place. After revising, I sent proposals to several presses. The University of Georgia Press responded and said that they were interested in it. So I sent them the whole manuscript, and a reader read it and sent me very detailed and very carefully written comments and responses to the whole manuscript. It was really gratifying to see that someone had read my work so carefully and cared about what I wrote. So after making those revisions, I sent it back to have another reader look over it.
Do you have any future work you want to get involved with?
I’m definitely interested in Southern literature and have played with the idea of doing a project on white women and taking a look at how slavery, reconstruction, and segregation affected white woman and the white maternal body and white motherhood. I definitely want to publish articles, but maybe not take on another book project right away. But motherhood is definitely a niche that I have found for myself and want to continue with.
-Interview conducted by Nakkia Patrick