I suppose my “career” is the pursuit of a quirky, unconventional intellectual obsession. I’m technically working on my PhD in English at Duke, focusing on 20th c. African American literature and popular culture. Truth be told, those who know me best would argue I’m trying to get a degree in James Brown and Funk Studies — largely self-designed as you can imagine. I want to theorize a Funk aesthetic (beginning with Brown’s work in the late 1960s) and develop an approach to understanding both the music and the cultural moment in terms of a body of what I’m calling “funk literature” and the creation of an “Afro-Modernist” impulse. Funk is deeply philosophical, and I think it’s about time the genre, as well as its great innovators received a little respect.
Needless to say, I’m something of a maverick in my current department insofar as my pursuit of somewhat untraditional interests, but fortunately, I have the ooomph and vocab to back it up.
I probably wouldn’t be able to pursue my current project(s) had it not been for the support and enthusiasm I received as an undergrad from Gayle Wald. She certainly encouraged me to think critically about popular culture in the form of my undergrad thesis (again on James Brown–do you see a pattern developing?) and
various papers for her courses. But this support hasn’t come without consequences! Considering my interests and her encouragement, I think it would be professionally irresponsible not to watch reality TV and VH1 programming, among other televised guilty pleasures. I might have to start forwarding her my cable bills…
[The department chair adds: please wait to see if Shout, Sister, Shout! garners a lucrative movie contract. If it does, yes, forward those bills all you like!]