New Faculty Profile: Edlie Wong

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Fall/ Winter 03


New Faculty Profile: Edlie Wong, by John Koblin

It's a crisp and beautiful autumn day in New Brunswick, but Professor Edlie Wong has already been warned about the winters here. She comes to Rutgers after earning her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 2003, and admits that she has not seen snow in years. "Well, I saw slush when I went to the MLA convention in New York," she jokes, "but you had to drive to see snow from where I lived. I know that when the snow hits, it'll be a new experience for me."

While earning her degree at Berkeley, Professor Wong's research interests were concentrated in nineteeth-century African-American literature, with emphases on postcolonial theory and gender studies. She uses these theoretical approaches to look at the "transformative journeys" described in travel literature of the period, especially the passages from bondage to freedom that are often described in the narratives of former slaves. "These stories are such a vibrant and neglected part of literary history," she says, arguing that slave narratives deal with the big questions about humanity and society that we expect to see addressed in great literature.

She is currently working on a book titled Fugitives and Foreigners: Enslaved Mobility and Elective Kinship in the Early Black Atlantic. A study of African-American and West-Indian slave narratives, the book examines the nineteenth-century literary themes of home and travel within a wider historical context, and pays particular attention to the experience and writings of enslaved women. She has published an article on one such narrative in Prose Studies in 2001, an in-depth study of the account of a West Indian woman named Mary Prince. According to Professor Wong, slave voyages often show a dynamic process of change, both physical and psychological, that remakes the speaker as someone with a powerful "public voice."

In her first semester of classes at Rutgers, Professor Wong has met challenges, especially when exposing students to slave narratives for the first time. "When I started, I was excited to teach classes of my own design, entirely related to my own interests," she says. But after students were introduced to the violence of slave life, she admits, they may have been overwhelmed. "There are some extraordinarily brutal scenes," she says, "but students' visceral reactions are a testament to the rhetorical effectiveness of the writing. These narratives often turned to sentiment and to feeling, using emotion to make a powerful political argument."

The English Department's support for the study of African-American literature is one of the many aspects of Rutgers that Professor Wong appreciates. "I'm excited to be in a department that requires an African-American course for a major. There's a real commitment to a diversity in education here, which I find very important." Before her Ph.D., Professor Wong earned her undergraduate degree at U.C. Berkeley - a double major in English Literature and Dramatic Arts - and is happy to be teaching at another large and diverse public university, despite the change in climate. "I feel very comfortable being part of a school like Rutgers," she says, "and I know my work here is significant. We have a diverse student body, but also many different learning programs to help students fulfill their goals. Anyone teaching here is part of a larger process, a true democratic education."

click here to read Edlie Wong's "Fugitive Voices"

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