Launching the Supernatural Cities website and blog

The main focus during my first six months at the University of Portsmouth has been developing and launching a website for the Supernatural Cities research project. Supernatural Cities is an interdisciplinary group with members drawn from schools faculties across the university – from historians, literary scholars and creative writers to specialists in architecture and game design. And beyond Portsmouth, the goal is for the project to serve as a network that helps bring together researchers exploring urban space and experience in relation to uncanniness, spectrality, haunting and the supernatural. Continue reading →

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Portsmouth DarkFest 2017

If I’ve never exactly been prolific on this site up to now, that’s been particularly true of the last six to nine months – a period in which I’ve written up and submitted my PhD thesis, and begun my first academic job. One of my main reasons for setting up a blog in the first place was to help stimulate the thesis-writing process, so I suppose I could argue that it has done its job in that respect, at least.

Since September I’ve been working part-time at the University of Portsmouth as Research Assistant on the Supernatural Cities project – a multi-disciplinary network of humanities and social science scholars concerned with the urban supernatural, spectral and fantastical. I’m very much aware of how fortunate I’ve been to secure a paid role almost immediately after submitting my thesis (I submitted on the Thursday and had my interview the next day, absurdly). Already, I’ve felt very settled and happy in Portsmouth – the project itself is fascinating, and is encouraging me to think about my past and future research from a different perspective, whilst I’ve found the atmosphere within the university to be very supportive and collegial.

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Upcoming conferences: Mobilities, Literature, Culture and Hardboiled History

In between frantically writing up my thesis over the next two months, I’ll be squeezing in speaking at two very exciting conferences. Later this month, I will be at Mobilities, Literature, Culture at Lancaster University. This will be the inaugural conference for the new Palgrave Macmillan book series, Studies in Mobilities, Literature and Culture, and the two-day programme is filled with fascinating-sounding panels.

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The city is absent & geography is destiny

Of the various maps of Los Angeles that I’ve referred to in my research, perhaps my favourite is this one, taken from the LA County Sheriff’s Department 1975-6 report.

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Source: Fiscal Year 1975-6 Statistical Summary, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, via NCJRS

It shows LASD station boundaries throughout Los Angeles County; it is, in other words, a map marking out territory under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department – either unincorporated county land, or incorporated cities that have contracted the LASD to provide law enforcement.

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Borders and Boundaries – Reflections on the BAAS PG Conference 2016

On Saturday morning, after wincing at a pre-6am alarm, I travelled up to Leeds for the 2016 British Association for American Studies Postgraduate Conference, ‘Negotiating the Borders and Boundaries of Americanism’.

It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and stimulating conferences I’ve been to in the last few years. The whole event was very well run; programming a single-day conference so that it feels full of material but not rushed or overwhelming is a fine art, and the schedule at PGBAAS16 was just right. (Branded tote bags containing Kit-Kats and bottles of water was the icing on the cake.)

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BAAS Postgraduate Conference – 19th November

Next month I’m very much looking forward to giving a paper at the 2016 British Association of American Studies Postgraduate Conference. Hosted by the University of Leeds, the conference theme is ‘Negotiating the Borders and Boundaries of Americanism‘.

The title of my paper is ‘Lines Burned Into Minds’: Negotiating and Transgressing the Borders of South Los Angeles, and I’ll be discussing Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) and Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) in relation to the social and geographical borders and boundaries that constrained the African-American community in LA, from WWII to the post-Civil Rights era.

The programme has lots of fascinating-sounding papers, including discussions of Patricia Highsmith and Raymond Chandler, and a keynote on ‘The Borders of Belonging and Desires for Blackness in America’. And the conference dinner involves an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet – I can’t think of a better way to end the day.

Moonlight, Killer of Sheep and the Violence of Boyhood

Thanks to a generous friend, I was fortunate enough to see the UK premiere of Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight last Thursday. It’s rare for me to find myself a potential source of spoilers, and so I’m not planning to write much about the film for now. Other than to say it is wonderful – tender, gripping, beautifully shot and acted.

Writing up my PhD as I am, I’m almost certainly at risk of the seeing-shadows tendency to associate everything I view or read with my thesis. And watching Moonlight when I’m in the middle of writing on Killer of Sheep (d. Charles Burnett, 1977) – another film that depicts the lives of a working-class African American community with deep sensitivity – meant I couldn’t help but have the latter in mind when watching the former.

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Arrested Movement – ‘Killer of Sheep’ (1978)

My current writing focus is Charles Burnett’s film Killer of Sheep, shot in South Los Angeles in the early 1970s as part of his UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Master’s course, and remastered and released commercially for the first time in 2007. Part of the ‘L.A. Rebellion’ school of filmmakers, or the ‘Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers’ (Ntongela Masilela), Burnett collaborated with many of his peers in the UCLA programme, including Haile Gerima, whose Bush Mama (1979) is the third work analysed in this chapter of my thesis. Of the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers, Burnett has probably had the most ‘successful’ career in ‘mainstream’/Hollywood terms, insofar as he went on to direct several films featuring recognisable stars: To Sleep with Anger (1990), starring Danny Glover, and The Glass Shield (1994), featuring Ice Cube.

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Conferences and Symposia – ‘Masculinity and the Metropolis’ and ‘The Dream of a City’

mm-posterI’m very excited to be part of the programme for what should be a fascinating interdisciplinary conference at the University of Kent, ‘Masculinity and the Metropolis’, taking place on the 22 and 23 April. (Their website also shows very good taste in WordPress themes!)

I’ll be speaking after lunch on the first day as part of a panel on ‘Black American Masculinities’, giving a paper titled “Living every day scared”: Disorientation, Incrimination and Black Masculinity in Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him GoI’m looking forward to speaking on Himes for the first time, and the paper is the fruit of recent research for the chapter of my PhD thesis provisionally titled ‘Arbitrary Incrimination, Restricted Mobility and Black Los Angeles’.

The following month, I’ll be giving a paper at the one-day symposium ‘The Dream of a City’, alongside many of my fellow UCL English scholars (including my thesis supervisor, Dr Matthew Beaumont, which will be a real pleasure and honour. My paper, “Confused about your jurisdiction, Deputy?” Territory, Identity and Los Angeles Law Enforcement will draw on material from an earlier thesis chapter, focusing on James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere and Joseph Wambaugh’s The New Centurions.

An exciting and busy couple of months ahead!

The Discernment of the Reluctant Detective: Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go

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Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) – detail from UK first edition cover

I’ve been working in earnest on Chester Himes’s 1945 novel If He Hollers Let Him Go over the last few weeks. His first published novel, If He Hollers… is set in WWII Los Angeles, and it focuses on Bob Jones, a black shipyard worker at the fictional Atlas Shipping. We follow Bob over several days as he experiences the complicated racial politics of wartime LA, and specifically the downward spiral of consequences that flow from him talking back to a southern white female colleague who abusively refuses to work alongside him.

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