Katy Chiles, Assistant Professor of English, has won a highly competitive NEH Summer Stipend to pursue work on her current book project, Transformable Race and the Literatures of Early America. The book seeks to understand how the eighteenth-century scientific idea that race was transformable influenced early American literature. As fantastical as it seems today, many Americans during the 1700s believed that race was an external bodily condition that was produced incrementally and could change over time. Focusing on writers such as Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, my project explores how authors used figurative language emphasizing or questioning the potential malleability of physical features to describe a person’s race. This study examines how writers drew upon these ideas about race so that we can better understand how science and literature interact in the construction of racial categories.Transformable Race and the Literatures of Early Americawill tell the story of how early American authors imagined, contributed to, and challenged the ways that one’s racial identity could be formed in the time of the nation’s founding.
Congratulations to Katy, who was among the 85 recipients selected from over 1,000 applicants for the award.
More about Katy
Katy Chiles teaches and writes about African-American and Native American literature, early American literature and culture, and critical race theory at the University of Tennessee. She teaches courses such as Major Black Writers, the Antebellum Black Atlantic, and Black American Literature and Aesthetics. Her current research focuses on how late eighteenth-century beliefs about the potential mutability of the racialized body structures the way that early American literary texts characterize racial difference. Her research has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has published articles in PMLA,American Literature, and Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Transformable Race and the Literatures of Early America.