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Indiana University Bloomington

Stephanie Li

Stephanie Li

stephli@indiana.edu


Professor
Susan D. Gubar Chair in Literature

PhD, Cornell University, 2005

MFA Creative Writing in Fiction, Cornell University, 2004

BA, Stanford University, 1998

My research is united by a commitment to bridging the divide between political rhetoric and literary narratives. Whether analyzing differing conceptions of freedom in 19th-century slave narratives or parsing the racial subtext of contemporary political rhetoric, I emphasize how personal and social resistance is vital to African American discourse. My extensive writing on Toni Morrison, including a short biography published in 2009, has also been foundational to elucidating the contradictions and doubled aims of American racial representation.

My first monograph, Something Akin to Freedom: The Choice of Bondage in Narratives by African American Women, analyzes literary examples in which African American women decide either to remain within or enter into conditions of bondage. I take up such issues as how enslavement can be understood as a site of desire and the gendered nature of individual resistance. My most recent book, Signifying without Specifying: Racial Discourse in the Age of Obama, describes a new mode of racial discourse for the 21st century, what Toni Morrison calls "race-specific, race-free language." I propose that Morrison's conception of language that encodes race without racism requires new levels of intimacy even as it reifies other forms of difference. In such texts as Morrison's Paradise, Colson Whitehead's Apex Hides the Hurt, the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri and the writings and speeches of President Obama, I demonstrate how race now functions through a type of interpretative understanding, rather than as an avowed category of identity. My interest in Obama's writings led me to guest co-edit with Professor Gordon Hutner the fall 2012 special issue of American Literary History, entitled "Writing the Presidency." Many of the collected essays focus on the increasing prominence and influence of the political memoir.

My most recent book, Playing in the White: Black Writers, White Subjects, considers how postwar African American authors represent whiteness. White life novels like Zora Neale Hurston's Seraph on the Suwannee and Richard Wright's Savage Holiday are uneasy additions to the African American canon because they explore the lives of white characters. By undermining expectations of what constitutes the province of black literature, they demand that we move beyond conventional reading practices. My interest in representations of whiteness extends to 21st century novels by American writers of various backgrounds.

Selected Publications

Books:

Playing in the White: Black Writers, White SubjectsPlaying in the White: Black Writers, White Subjects (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Signifying without Specifying: Racial Discourse in the Age of ObamaSignifying without Specifying: Racial Discourse in the Age of Obama (Rutgers University Press, 2011).

Something Akin to Freedom: The Choice of Bondage in Narratives by African American WomenSomething Akin to Freedom: The Choice of Bondage in Narratives by African American Women (SUNY Press, 2010).