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Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Joseph S. Atha Professor of the Humanities
Professor of English
Director of American Studies
B.A., Yale College
M.Phil., Yale University
Ph.D., Yale University
At Stanford Since: 


Shelley Fisher Fishkin's broad, interdisciplinary research interests have led her to focus on topics including the ways in which American writers' apprenticeships in journalism shaped their poetry and fiction; the influence of African American voices on canonical American literature; the need to desegregate American literary studies; American theatre history; the development of feminist criticism; the relationship between public history and literary history; literature and animal welfare; the role  literature can play in the fight against racism; the place of humor and satire in movements for social justice; digital humanities; and the challenge of doing transnational American Studies. Although much of her work has centered on Mark Twain, she has also published on writers including Gloria Anzaldua, John Dos Passos, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Dreiser, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Erica Jong, Maxine Hong Kingston, Theresa Malkiel,  Tillie Olsen, and Walt Whitman. Much of her work has focused on recovering and interpreting voices that were silenced, marginalized, or ignored in America's past.

After receiving her B.A.from Yale College (summa cum laude, phi beta kappa), she stayed on at Yale for a masters degree in English and a Ph.D. in American Studies, and was Director of the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism there. She taught American Studies and English at the University of Texas at Austin from 1985 to 2003, and was Chair of the Department of American Studies. She is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England, where she was a Visiting Fellow,  has twice been a Visiting Scholar at Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender and has been a Faculty Research Fellow at Stanford's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and at Stanford's Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.  She has been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, was a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer in Japan, and was the winner of a Harry H. Ransom Teaching Excellence Award at the University of Texas.

Dr. Fishkin is the author, editor, co-author,  or co-editor of forty-seven books and has published over one hundred fifty articles, essays, columns, and reviews. Her work has been translated into Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Georgian, and Italian, and has been published in English-language journals in China, Turkey, Japan, and Korea. Her most recent book is Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee (named runner-up for the best book award in the general nonfiction category, London Book Festival, 2015) (Rutgers University Press, 2015; paperback, 2017), a book that Junot Díaz called "a triumph of scholarship and passion, a profound exploration of the many worlds which comprise our national canon....a book that redraws the literary map of the United States." She is also the author of: From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America (winner of a Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Award for outstanding research in journalism history) (Johns Hopkins, 1985); Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices (selected as an "Outstanding Academic Book " by Choice) (Oxford, 1993); Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (Oxford, 1997);  and Feminist Engagements: Forays Into American Literature and Culture (selected as an "Outstanding Academic Title" by Choice) (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2009).  She is the editor of the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain (Oxford, 1996; Paperback reprint edition, 2009), the Oxford Historical Guide to Mark Twain(Oxford, 2002), "Is He Dead? " A New Comedy by Mark Twain (University of California, 2003), Mark Twain's Book of Animals (University of California Press, 2009), and The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on his LIfe and Work (Library of America, 2010). She is also a producer of the adaptation of Twain's "Is He Dead? " which had its world debut on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre in 2007, and was nominated for a Tony Award (Since it closed on Broadway, it has had 409 productions in 48 states and Australia, Canada, China, Romania, Russia, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom). She is the co-editor of Listening to Silences: New Essays in Feminist Criticism (Oxford, 1994); People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity (Wisconsin, 1996); The Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in America (M.E. Sharpe, 1997); Mark Twain at the Turn of the Century, 1890-1910 (Arizona Quarterly, 2005); 'Sport of the Gods' and Other Essential Writing by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Random House, 2005), Anthology of American Literature, ninth edition (Prentice-Hall, 2006), Concise Anthology of American Literature, seventh edition (Prentice-Hall, 2011), and a special issue of African American Review devoted to the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar (autumn 2007). From 1993 to 2003 she co-edited Oxford University Press's "Race and American Culture " book series with Arnold Rampersad.

She has served as President of the American Studies Association and the Mark Twain Circle of America. She was co-founder of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman society, and was chair of the MLA Nonfiction Prose Division. She has given keynote talks at  conferences in Beijing, Cambridge, Coimbra, Copenhagen, Dublin, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Hyderabad, Kolkata,  Kunming, Kyoto,  La Coruña, Lisbon, Mainz, Nanjing, Regensburg, Seoul, St. Petersburg, Taipei, Tokyo, and across the U.S. Her research has been featured twice on the front page of the New York Times, and twice on the front page of the New York Times Arts section. In 2009 she was awarded the Mark Twain Circle's Certificate of Merit "for long and distinguished service in the elucidation of the work, thought, life and art of Mark Twain" and in 2017  she was awarded the John S. Tuckey lifetime achievement award by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (the first woman to receive this award, which was established in 1991, and is given every four years). The award announcement recognized her efforts "to assure that a rigorous, dynamic account of Twain stays in the public consciousness," and stated that "Nobody has done more to recruit, challenge, and inspire new generations and new genres of Mark Twain studies."

The Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities and Professor of English at Stanford, she is Director of Stanford's American Studies Program. She served as  a member of the Board of Governors of the Humanities Research Institute of the University of California, and was a member of the international jury for the 2013 Francqui Prize (awarded to an outstanding young scholar in Belgium). She is a founding Editor of the online Journal of Transnational American Studies. 

One of her current projects is a  collaborative transnational, bilingual research project dealing with the Chinese Railroad Workers whose labor helped establish the wealth that allowed Leland Stanford to build Stanford University.   The goal of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford  is to try to recover their experience and their world more fully than ever before, and to understand how these workers have figured  in cultural memory in the U.S. and China. She is co-director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project  with Gordon H. Chang, the Olive H. Palmer Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Stanford. Her recent publications related to this project include “Seeing Absence, Evoking Presence: History and the Art of Zhi Lin.” Zhi LIN: In Search of the Lost History of Chinese Migrants and the Transcontinental Railroads. Tacoma, Washington: Tacoma Art Museum, (2017); and  從天使城到長島:美洲橫貫鐵路竣工後在美國的鐵路華工[“From Los Angeles to Long Island: Chinese Railroad Workers in America after the Transcontinental”] in  北美鐵路華工:歷史、文學與視覺再現 [Chinese Railroad Workers in North America: Recovery and Representation], edited by Hsinya Huang [黃心雅] Taipei: Bookman  [台北:書林出版社]  (2017).  The Chinese Railroad Workers Project has received support from the President of Stanford, the UPS Fund at Stanford, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental, edited by Fishkin and Chang, will be published by Stanford University Press in 2019. 

Another current project is a collaboration with colleagues in translation studies and computer science at the Université de Lille, a transnational digital project that tracks the global circulation of works of American literature through a combination of crowdsourcing and expert curation in a wide range of languages. 


Courses 2018-2019


English 68N/AMSTUD 68N: Mark Twain and American Culture



English 124: The American West