Making Space for Conversation
Lyndon Dominique, an associate professor of English at Lehigh University, was appointed associate director of the Bread Loaf School of English in January 2018. He recently connected with the newsletter to discuss, among other things, his current scholarly foci; the challenges teachers face when seeking to introduce studies of race and gender into their classrooms; and his thoughts on his new administrative role.
Could you take a moment to describe your current research or writing?
Political Blackness in Early 18th-Century British Literature is a very tentative working title for my current book project. In it, I’m exploring representations of blackness and the ways they shape social justice thought and expression within the British nation immediately after the 1688 Glorious Revolution. I’m currently working on chapters that examine works by the white writers John Dunton and Aphra Behn, and the unique ways their texts use constructions of blackness to politicize ideas about social justice. For instance, Dunton’s satires use depictions of a black King William III and Queen Anne to make, what I argue, is a remarkable case for social equality in the nation. And my chapter on Aphra Behn’s novels looks at the ways in which she creates scenes of subjection that black women experience across the globe as a call for a particular brand of political allyship between women of a certain class.
What do you think are some of the biggest hurdles facing teachers who hope to introduce studies of race, gender, and/or social justice to their English classrooms? And how can teachers overcome or manage these hurdles?
One of my biggest hurdles in teaching race, gender, and social justice at the university level is expanding my field of expertise to include texts that can speak more immediately to the race, gender, and social justice issues and problems we are currently facing today. How can I make 18th-century British literature speak to the contemporary #MeToo movement, for instance? Or the Movement for Black Lives? For my modernist colleagues, this work may be a little easier. For me, it usually involves applying a critical race theory, such as Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, to a reading of a nontraditional 18th-century text, such as Aphra Behn’s The Adventure of the Black Lady (1697), or proposing classes with a long historical overview, like the one in my course Black British Literature.
At the high and middle school levels, teachers have very different and perhaps much harder hurdles to overcome when introducing questions of race, gender, and social justice into their teaching. Stubborn school board mandates, concerned parents, intransigent forms of institutional bureaucracy—getting beyond these kinds of obstacles is much harder than anything I have to face. And yet, there’s a lot that high and middle school teachers can do even when they are forced to teach according to a strict canon: reading Jane Eyre (1848) with explicit attention to the race of the madwoman in the attic, for instance, or introducing nontraditional versions of Jane Austen’s texts, such as Amy Heckerling’s Clueless or Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. These texts and approaches are canon adjacent and they allow other conversations about race, gender, and social justice to take place within the classroom.
What do you read for fun?
For fun, I just bought A Song of Ice and Fire, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I’ve so enjoyed the HBO show and I’m really looking forward to the eighth and final season next year. TV seems to be my go-to selector for fun books because I just finished reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, a book that I picked up after falling in love with the Syfy TV show.
How did you become interested in teaching at Bread Loaf?
I had heard about Bread Loaf many years ago from Lucy Maddox, whose husband, Jim, was the Bread Loaf director before Emily Bartels. Years later, once I got through the tenure process at Lehigh University, Claudia Johnson recommended my name to Emily as someone who was doing interesting work in the 18th-century field. And the rest is history.
Would you describe a particularly moving or transformative Bread Loaf classroom experience?
In the Fantastic Austen course I taught last year, I had a really transformative moment. We were discussing the ending of the Seth Grahame-Smith novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and reflecting on the violence Mr. Darcy enacts on Mr. Wickham. In a graphic scene of retributive justice, the dashing Mr. Darcy beats the wicked Mr. Wickham so severely that it turns him into a paraplegic. I’ve read this novel numerous times and had simply accepted this as a moment of fair retaliation for the sins Wickham commits against the Bennet family. “Mr. Wickham gets his just deserts,” I thought. That was until a student in the course brought to my attention all of the ethical problems in this scene from a disability studies perspective. In a flash, I had a revelation about how totally blind I’d been in my ableist reading and teaching of this novel. I’ve never thought about or taught it in the same way since.
I know you feel some ambivalence about leaving the classroom to serve in this administrative capacity. What do you miss most about teaching at Bread Loaf? And what have you enjoyed most about your engagement with students in your new role?
Every class is different. Every moment of learning in a class is different. So I really miss those annual occasions where an entire class of intelligent, hypermotivated MA students are pushing me to learn anew—to both uncover new things about texts that I’ve read numerous times and refine what I already know about them. I also miss the opportunity to propose and teach new courses: an 18th-Century Origins of Science Fiction course, for instance, or a class on Black Diasporic Literatures.
In my new role this year, I’ve really enjoyed the ability to interact with, and get to know, more students on a daily basis. I’m a pretty social person, so I was already familiar with many of the students on the Vermont campus. But this year, I also got the opportunity to meet and hear from students at the Santa Fe campus—to find out more about their lives, why they teach, how they teach, and what makes them excited about returning to Bread Loaf year after year.
This new role has also given me the opportunity to get to know Emily and the Bread Loaf support staff in a more intimate way. They are all simply SUPERB (note the caps). I learn so much from them each time we interact.
Usually, I’m so caught up with teaching that I either forget or am unable to attend the many wonderful events on campus. So one of the most exciting things about my new role is that it’s given me the opportunity to see how Bread Loaf energy is shaped outside the classroom through the many activities and events that students, faculty, actors, and staff put on, from blue sky readings and Teachers Teaching Teachers workshops to opera tailgating parties and faculty symposia. I always come away from a summer at Bread Loaf excited about the learning I have engaged in and stimulated by all the wonderful things I’ve seen.
Would you describe some of your favorite Bread Loaf moments?
TOO MANY TO NAME!
Playing bocce with Bob Sullivan, Edward Brown, and Kalli Federhofer.
My first pond reading.
Emily’s opening speech every year.
“What’s the Story? Vermont” and Next Gen presentations in the Barn.
The Kronos Quartet’s performance and anything musical in the Barn.
Reading Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in my first Bread Loaf course.
The T-shirts made about our class reading Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.
Anything students of color.
Anything Dixie Goswami.
Anything Beverly Moss.
Anything Bob Sullivan.
What is your vision of Bread Loaf?
Bread Loaf is a fantastic place for reading and writing, for learning and growing. It is a unique space where literature matters to students and professors who are all strong in the belief that books make the world and our lives infinitely better.