Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860–1930
Race, Work and Desire analyses literary representations of work relationships across the colour-line from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Michele Birnbaum examines inter-racial bonds in fiction and literary correspondence by black and white authors and artists - including Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E. W. Harper, W. D. Howells, Grace King, Kate Chopin, Langston Hughes, Amy Spingarn and Carl Van Vechten - exploring the way servants and employers, doctors and patients, and patrons and artists negotiate their racial differences for artistic and political ends. Situating these relationships in literary and cultural context, Birnbaum argues that the literature reveals the complexity of cross-racial relations in the workplace, which, although often represented as an oasis of racial harmony, is in fact the very site where race politics are most fiercely engaged. This study productively complicates current debates about cross-racial collaboration in American literary and race studies, and will be of interest to scholars in both literary and cultural studies.
About the Author
Michele Elam is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Humanities in the English Department at Stanford University, a Faculty Associate Director of the Insitute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence https://hai.stanford.edu and a Race & Technology Affiliate at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity https://ccsre.stanford.edu/race-technology-initiative
Elam’s research in interdisciplinary humanities connects literature and the social sciences in order to examine changing cultural interpretations of gender and race. Her work is informed by the understanding that racial perception in particular impacts outcomes for health, wealth and social justice. More recently, her scholarship examines intersections of race, technology and the arts. “Making Race in the Age of AI,” her most recent book project, considers how the humanities and arts function as key crucibles through which to frame and address urgent social questions about equity in emergent technologies. She is teaching a new course, "AI + Arts + Activism" in spring 2021.
Elam’s books include Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2003), The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium (Stanford University Press, 2011), and The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (Cambridge University Press, 2015). She has published articles on race and culture in PMLA, African American Review, American Literature, Theatre Journal and Genre, as well as op-eds for CNN, Huffington Post, and Boston Review. She was awarded the 2018 Darwin T. Turner Award for Outstanding Scholarship by the African American Literature and Culture Society.
Ar Stanford, she has served as the Director of the interdisciplinary graduate Program in Modern Thought and Literature (MTL), the Director of African & African American Studies, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the English Department. Nationally, Elam has served as Chair of the Executive Committee for the Black Literatures & Culture Division of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and on the Executive Council for the American Literature Society at MLA. She is currently on the Advisory Boards of Stanford’s Program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Studies, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, and serves on the Director’s Council for the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the d.school).
Dedicated to teaching, Elam has been awarded the 2018 Walter J. Gores Award, the University's highest teaching honor. She is also thrice the recipient of the St Clair Drake Outstanding Teaching Award at Stanford (2004, 2006, 2015) and has twice received the Faculty Award for Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Students as a Teacher, Advisor and Mentor from the Program in Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity (2013, 2018), among her other teaching awards.
Undergraduate and graduate seminars include:
- Arts + AI + Activism
- The Harlem Renaissance
- James Baldwin & American Culture
- Got Genius? W.E.B. Du Bois
- Toni Morrison & the Occasion of Feminism
- Gender Studies for the 21st Century
- Mixed Race Politics & Culture
- Mixed Race in the U.S & South Africa
- Narratives of Enslavement & Theories of Redress