Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Social Imperative: Race, Close Reading, and Contemporary Literary Criticism

About the Author

Paula Moya standing in the library stacks holding an open book.

Paula Moya

PAULA M. L. MOYA, is the Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor of the Humanities and Professor of English at Stanford University. She was recently named the Burton J. and Deedee McMurtry University Fellow in Undergraduate Education and currently serves as the Director of the Research Institute of Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

Moya’s teaching and research focus on twentieth-century and early twenty-first century literary studies, feminist theory, critical theory, narrative theory, American cultural studies, interdisciplinary approaches to race and ethnicity, and Chicanx and U.S. Latinx studies.

She is the author of The Social Imperative: Race, Close...

Stanford University Press
2015

In the context of the ongoing crisis in literary criticism, The Social Imperative reminds us that while literature will never by itself change the world, it remains a powerful tool and important actor in the ongoing struggle to imagine better ways to be human and free. Figuring the relationship between reader and text as a type of friendship, the book elaborates the social-psychological concept of schema to show that our multiple social contexts affect what we perceive and how we feel when we read. Championing and modeling a kind of close reading that attends to how literature reflects, promotes, and contests pervasive sociocultural ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, Paula M. L. Moya demonstrates the power of works of literature by writers such as Junot Diaz, Toni Morrison, and Helena Maria Viramontes to alter perceptions and reshape cultural imaginaries. Insofar as literary fiction is a unique form of engagement with weighty social problems, it matters not only which specific works of literature we read and teach, but also how we read them, and with whom. This is what constitutes the social imperative of literature.