Author Q&A session: Therí A. Pickens

Author of New Body Politics, Therí A. Pickens, discusses her title and what attracted her to this topic as an area of study.

Therí A. Pickens is an Assistant Professor of English at Bates College. Her research focuses on Arab American and African American literatures and cultures, Disability Studies, philosophy, and literary theory. Her critical work has appeared in Disability Studies Quarterly, Al-Jadid, Journal of Canadian Literature, Al-Raida, and, the ground-breaking collection, Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions.

Author Q&A

1. What makes your book so unique to others in the field?

New Body Politics is the first of its kind to compare African American and Arab American literature in the 20th century. It takes on the question of what do these two groups say to each other. It answers that they communicate, to a large extent, about the vexed sensation of living in a body that is often asked to carry the weight of history.

2. What is your favourite example in the book?

That’s tough! I can’t really choose between Suheir Hammad and Magic Johnson. The readings of Hammad’s work were simply a pleasure to do because her work is so elegant and provocative. My exploration of Magic Johnson’s narrative was difficult because it feels so relevant, but that’s also why it remains so important to me.

3. Can you describe your book in one sentence?

This book is about all kinds of embodied experience – particularly those that pertain to Arab and African Americans in the later 20th century.

4. What first attracted you to this topic as an area of study?

I began seeing connections between Arab Americans and African Americans at a fairly young age. I suppose this has been a long obsession for me, to describe what these two communities have to say to each other, what alliances can form, and how they can build community.

5. What findings in writing/researching the book surprised you?

It is incredibly difficult to write about two groups of people who not only share a fraught history in the same space but sometimes with each other. The difficulty lies in the desire to write honestly without effacing complication. I originally thought that many of their connections would be on the basis of Islam or other faith communities. I found that wasn’t true; in fact, Arab and African American communities gravitate toward each other for a wide variety of cultural, social, and political reasons.

6. Do you have plans for future books? What’s next in the pipeline for you?

I am currently working on an edited volume about Arab American Aesthetics. Often, critics talk about the aesthetic as though it were solely political. Without making poetry, or theatre apolitical, I want to explore what unites Arab American cultural production aesthetically. I’m also excited to see what the authors come up with.

About New Body Politics

In the increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic American landscape of the present, understanding and bridging dynamic cross-cultural conversations about social and political concerns becomes a complicated humanistic project. How do everyday embodied experiences transform from being anecdotal to having social and political significance? What can the experience of corporeality offer social and political discourse? And, how does that discourse change when those bodies belong to Arab Americans and African Americans?

Therí A. Pickens discusses a range of literary, cultural, and archival material where narratives emphasize embodied experience to examine how these experiences constitute Arab Americans and African Americans as social and political subjects. Pickens argues that Arab American and African American narratives rely on the body’s fragility, rather than its exceptional strength or emotion, to create urgent social and political critiques. The creators of these narratives find potential in mundane experiences such as breathing, touch, illness, pain, and death. Each chapter in this book focuses on one of these everyday embodied experiences and examines how authors mobilize that fragility to create social and political commentary. Pickens discusses how the authors' focus on quotidian experiences complicates their critiques of the nation state, domestic and international politics, exile, cultural mores, and the medical establishment.

New Body Politics participatesin a vibrant interdisciplinary conversation about cross-ethnic studies, American literature, and Arab American literature. Using intercultural analysis, Pickens explores issues of the body and representation that will be relevant to fields as varied as Political Science, African American Studies, Arab American Studies, and Disability Studies.

Look inside...

Order your copy of New Body Politics

  • New Body Politics

    Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States

    By Therí A. Pickens

    In the increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic American landscape of the present, understanding and bridging dynamic cross-cultural conversations about social and political concerns becomes a complicated humanistic project. How do everyday embodied experiences transform from being anecdotal to…

    Paperback – 2015-07-14
    Routledge
    Routledge Series on Identity Politics

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