On Being an Academic

This blog hasn’t been much about me being an academic, or even an educator. That dominated my first blog, fresh off a year on the tenure-track, but now (at first) underemployed with two kids under the age of two in the house, and then as a contingent faculty member, still holding out hope that I could, once again, get a tenure-track job, post-2008. During my one year on the tenure-track, I set everything in motion to ensure I would get tenure in seven year: started a new book project, started an edited volume, got accepted to my first MLA conference to present, sent out essays for publication. When I left my tenure-track position, I kept working on all the scholarship I had started, in part in the hopes it would be enough, in part because I enjoyed what I was doing, the scholarship I was engaging in.

I organized my (heavy) teaching schedule so that I would have two full days a week to research and write (and, as the semester wore on, grade essays). My first office (and I was grateful to have one) was in an old house on the edge of campus that was literally falling apart and actively trying to kill me with mold and other fumes. So I brought in green tea oil and a small air purifier, so I could work and write. I turned my bookcase into a standing desk. I even managed to get a summer research grant from my institution.

I am brought back to that space, that time, when I re-read one of the essays I wrote there that is now immortalized in volume 462 of Contemporary Literary Criticism. When I first opened the box, I had to catch my breath. I had forgotten that I had agreed to have my essay included, but when I had agreed, it hadn’t registered that this was the series is was going to be a part of. I have clear memories of wandering through the reference section of the library, looking for the index volume of various periodicals (yes, I’m that old), and seeing that series loom large on the shelf, like literary encyclopedia. Except none of those volumes included any author I studied.

I’m sure that’s changed, I’m sure Margaret Atwood is in there now, and maybe even was when I was doing my MA, and probably Anne Hébert, and a handful of other Canadian and Québécois authors who have made it big outside of the boarders of Canada. And, given his status now as a member of the prestigious Académie française, it’s not surprising that Dany Laferrière would get his own entry in the series. I don’t know if he’s the first Haitian author to be included (my god, they don’t make it easy to find out who is featured in this collection), but irregardless, he belongs in it.

But now, I, apparently, also belong in it. I see my essay beside the big names in Haitian literary criticism more broadly and Dany Laferrière specifically. Essays and authors I’ve cited, repeatedly. People whose scholarship help inform my own. And there is my essay, written in a run-down office as a contingent faculty member at a school in the middle of nowhere, alongside these full professors at prestigious institutions. I can distinctly remember writing this particular essay – the print-outs and novels surrounding me in a heap, the smell of tea tree oil, the crappy HP laptop they had given me, standing at that bookshelf, that moment when I came across the GOOD article that snapped the whole essay into place as to how I was going to approach the essay.

And now, here it is, in this important-looking, imposing tome of literary criticism. Not only that, but one of the essays from the book I edited on Dany Laferrière was included, as well. In the closing “Further Reading” section, they even recommend my small edited volume. The book itself, if you wanted it, costs $460, and I don’t even want to think about how much access to the database costs. I got some money for my inclusion, and the essay is available open-access if you want to read it. The book will no doubt sit, largely unread, on library reference bookshelves, dutifully indexed, and available to anyone whose library has paid for access to the database.

This is the paradox of academia, of being a scholar. The essay has existed, open-access, for years now. But it’s inclusion into one of the most inaccessible, yet so-called prestigious, collections has filled me with a sense of pride and accomplishment that I wasn’t expecting. That this Haitian-Canadian author made it into the collection, with an essay by contingent-faculty, middle-of-nowhere school me. It means something to me, more than I expected. A validation I didn’t think I needed or even wanted anymore. But there it is nonetheless.

The book that I was going to write about Dany Laferrière never materialized. The ideas are all still there, but thrown into disarray because the author has decided to start writing graphic novels. Maybe those will just show up in the conclusion/further research. I’m writing this paragraph like I am still, one day, going to write the book. The intro is written, along with about half the chapters. No one else has written it yet. I have too many other writing commitments at the moment to re-start this one (ADHD Brain: YOU HAVE TIME! LET’S GOOOOOOO!), but maybe this surprise moment of inclusion and validation is what I needed to believe in myself enough to know that I still could, and that it would matter.

My horoscope suggested to me today that I should write a love-letter to my past self. Consider it done.

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