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Paula Moya on Race, Close Reading, and Contemporary Literary Criticism

Venue: CCSRE Conference Room, Building 360.

Host: Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Speaker: Paula Moya, Professor of English and, by courtesy, of Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Stanford University. She is the author of The Social Imperative: Race, Close Reading, and Contemporary Literary Criticism (Stanford UP, 2015) and Learning From Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles (UC Press, 2002). She has also co-edited three collections of original essays, Doing Race: 21 Essays for the 21st Century (W.W. Norton, Inc., 2010), Identity Politics Reconsidered (Palgrave, 2006), and Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism (UC Press, 2000).

Description: Paula Moya will present her latest book, with Leah Gordon, Assistant Professor of Education at Stanford, moderating the discussion. Please RSVP here.

In the context of the ongoing crisis in literary criticism, The Social Imperative reminds us that while literature will never by itself change the world, it remains a powerful tool and important actor in the ongoing struggle to imagine better ways to be human and free. Figuring the relationship between reader and text as a type of friendship, the book elaborates the social-psychological concept of schema to show that our multiple social contexts affect what we perceive and how we feel when we read. Championing and modeling a kind of close reading that attends to how literature reflects, promotes, and contests pervasive sociocultural ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, Paula M. L. Moya demonstrates the power of works of literature by writers such as Junot Diaz, Toni Morrison, and Helena Maria Viramontes to alter perceptions and reshape cultural imaginaries. Insofar as literary fiction is a unique form of engagement with weighty social problems, it matters not only which specific works of literature we read and teach, but also how we read them, and with whom. This is what constitutes the social imperative of literature.