The AALCS is very excited to feature our first member spotlight! Once a month we will feature a new member to emphasize the great work the AALCS is doing and build our community. First up, President Grégory Pierrot! Check out his responses below.
1) Tell us about yourself.
“I’m a 40 year-old, recently naturalized French immigrant of West Indian descent. I grew up in Metz, Lorraine, not too far from Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. I obtained my PhD in English at the Pennsylvania State University, specializing in African American literature and Haitian Revolutionary Studies. I have been teaching at the University of Connecticut at Stamford since 2013. I’m a middling drummer, an even worse guitarist, a mostly regrettable singer, and I’ll play soccer anywhere on the left wing.”
2) What is your favorite class to teach/that you have taught?
“I’m very fond of my “Music in African American Literature” course. If the reasons aren’t obvious, it is because I get to listen to and discuss music with students all semester long. The course mixes history, pop culture, politics, and allows students a variety of angles into the material. It’s always made for very entertaining and lively discussions. As for myself, music was very important to me when I was growing up, and a crucial entry into African American culture and literature. The long history of relations between African Americans and France also means that the French at large think they have a special relation with black American culture. It is not untrue, but it is also a source of interesting cognitive dissonance when you’re black and French. I have broached it in this course, when relevant. At the confluence of music and literature, we also are bound to discuss matters of national and racial belonging, matters of formal, linguistic and cultural translation, i.e. all the things I’m interested in as a scholar. So it is a treat, hopefully for the students too!”
3) What is your current research project?
“I just turned in my book manuscript, The Black Avenger in Atlantic Culture, which hopefully will get published some time next year at Georgia UP. I mentioned earlier that I also work in Haitian Studies: I am a co-editor on an Anthology of Haitian Revolutionary Fictions, a wonderful project led by Marlene Daut (UVA) for which I am also doing translations (I moonlight as a translator). I have been working in collaboration with Tabitha McIntosh (Birkbeck) on cultural exchanges between Henry I of Haiti’s kingdom (1811-1820) and the West. We have written and continue to write articles and are currently working on a digital humanities project about the kingdom of Haiti, the first installment of which we hope to release later this year. I’m staying mysterious about it—suspense!—but I can say that this first installment will center on Néhri, a play by Haitian author Juste Chanlatte long believed lost, a copy of which McIntosh recently located. These projects have been occupying much of my time, but I have many more at different stages of completion. I’ll spare you for now.”
4) What made you specialize in this area?
“I consider myself a Black Studies scholar, and clearly my personal background had some influence on it. As a teenager I played in bands, wrote for fanzines that my sister started and which focused not just on music but on broader cultural and political matters. There was always a connection between these interests and literature to me, but not necessarily one that I thought could I could work on as a student. As a French grad student my specialization was more broadly American literature and I had a somewhat narrow understanding of what was allowed at the university—single-author study, that type of thing. Reading Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic certainly made an impression on me as an example of a study that crossed disciplinary boundaries. The opening sentence in the first chapter— “Striving to be both European and black requires some specific forms of double consciousness”—struck me as a research program of sorts. The unspoken reference to DuBois also makes clear that this program necessarily includes African American thought and art. By the time I joined a grad program in the US it occurred to me that I could work on all those topics I’d been writing about and thinking about outside of academia. This may explain why some of my work falls under Romanticism, Haitian Studies, etc. What I’ve long been interested in is what it means to be black in the West; black literatures, cultures and history as they relate to each other. So I follow these interests where they take me, so to speak.”
5) What is your favorite food or meal?
“Aaaaaah what a tough question! There are too many to count, really, but to represent, I’ll say quiche Lorraine, my birth region’s gift to the culinary world, and accra, a cod fritter they make all over the Caribbean but which I know from my Martinican mother. I no longer eat meat but I still eat fish for now, so I suppose accra’s ahead of the traditional quiche with lardons, but the quiche is forgiving and versatile.”