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GerShun Avilez

GerShun Avilez profile photo

Associate Professor, English

301-405-3810

Tawes Hall 2116b
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Research Expertise

African American/African Diaspora
American
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

GerShun Avilez is a cultural studies scholar who specializes in contemporary African American and Black Diasporic literatures and visual cultures. His teaching also covers 20th century US literature. Much of his scholarship explores how questions of gender and sexuality inform artistic production. In addition, he works in the fields of political radicalism, spatial theory, and gender studies.  

His first book Radical Aesthetics & Modern Black Nationalism (Illinois) appeared in 2016 as a part of “The New Black Studies” Series.  The book investigates how Black nationalist rhetoric impacted African American artistic experimentation in the 20th and 21st centuries through an examination of drama, novels, poetry, film, and visual art.  Radical Aesthetics won the 2017 William Sanders Scarborough Prize from the Modern Language Association (MLA).  The prize is given to an outstanding scholarly study of African American literature or culture.

His second book, Black Queer Freedom, explores Black queer artists and questions of social space. It will be published in October 2020. He also recently edited a special issue of the journal Women's Studies. Throughout his work and teaching, he is committed to studying a wide variety of art forms, including, drama, fiction, non-fiction, film, poetry, visual and performance art, ethnography, and comic books. He was the recipient of the Poorvu Award for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Teaching in 2011 (Yale University).

He created and coordinates the departmental Africana/Black Studies Colloquium, which hosts a number of events (lectures, rountables, book launches, discussion groups, etc.) each year centered around African American and Black Diasporic research. He is an elected member of the MLA Delegate Assembly, and he serves on the Committee for Gender and Sexuality Studies for the Association of American Studies (ASA).

He received his PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned a Graduate Certificate in Africana Studies. He has held professorships at Yale University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  He also held the Frederick Douglass Post-doctoral Fellowship at the University of Rochester.

To view GerShun Avilez's website.

 

Awards & Grants

William Sanders Scarborough Prize for an Outstanding Scholarly Study of Black American Literature or Culture

Awarded for Radical Aesthetics & Modern Black Nationalism

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
For an outstanding scholarly study of black American literature or culture.

Creative

"Housing the Black Body: Value, Domestic Space, and Segregation Narratives.”

Linking mobility and housing, the article connects two issues to the rights and privileges of citizenship in a democracy.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
Hansberry takes on residential segregation by confronting that practice not merely as a restriction on domestic space but mainly as a constriction of civic identity. The case intimates that, given the centrality of segregation to restrictive practices affecting citizenship, the relationship of African Americans to places of residence and to domestic space in general is indicative of their relationship to legal structures. The social and legal developments that directly and indirectly encouraged segregated housing during the mid-twentieth century created the conditions for African Americans to feel estranged from their domestic spaces. (1) The feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction with the "kitchenette" expressed in Gwendolyn Brooks's poem define the housing problems to come for many African American communities, and such sentiments factor into representations of domestic space in mid-20th-century African American narratives.

"Cartographies of Desire: Mapping Queer Space in the Fiction of Samuel Delany and Darieck Scott"

Applying his knowledge of urban planning to the field of cultural theory, Haitian-American architect-artist Jean-Ulrick Désert invokes the concept of "queer space" in order to describe the complicated (yet valuable) nature of actual gay and lesbian commun

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
Locations, he contends, simultaneously engage and transgress the social, architectural, and juridical meanings attributed to the areas that they occupy by means of the subversive bodies that collectively inhabit and pass through them. He goes on to characterize this concept in these terms: "queer space is in large part the function of wishful thinking or desires that become solidified: a seduction of the reading space where queerness, at a few brief points and for some fleeting moments, dominates the (heterocentric) norm, the dominant social narrative of the landscape" (21, emphasis added).1 The term "queer space" is most often employed as a way to discuss and analyze the precarious positioning of gay, lesbian, and transgender social spaces and the politics of gentrification in regard to these locations.2 However, I believe that Désert's formulation reveals the potential of the lens of "queer space" to exceed its strictly geographical or architectural valence and provide a framework for theoretical and formal analysis within literary studies.

“African American Writing Until 1930.”

Featured in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature presents a global history of the field and is an unprecedented summation of critical knowledge on gay and lesbian literature that also addresses the impact of gay and lesbian literature on cognate fields such as comparative literature and postcolonial studies.

"The Aesthetics of Terror: Constructing 'Felt Threat in Those Bones Are Not My Child and Leaving Atlanta."

Featured in Obsidian: Literature of the African Diaspora. Special Issue: Violence & Black Youth in Post-Civil Rights U.S.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
Avilez analyzes the suspenseful novel portraying a community–and a family–under siege, during the shocking string of murders of black children in Atlanta in the early 1980s.

"Queer Forms, Black Lives: Melvin Dixon, Assotto Saint, and Artistic Experimentation"

The book, an anthology of critical essays, poetry, personal narratives, interviews, and other writings, provides a vivid synopsis of writer and activist Joseph Beam (1954-1988) as well as other figures of the 1980s Black gay arts movement.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
Black Gay Genius looks back at the 1980s, but also looks forward, seeking to build upon the artistic and political legacy of black gay men’s from the 1980s.

"The Black Arts Movement"

Featured in The Cambridge Companion to Literature of American Civil Rights.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
The Cambridge Companion to American Civil Rights Literature brings together leading scholars to examine the significant traditions, genres, and themes of civil rights literature. While civil rights scholarship has typically focused on documentary rather than creative writing, and political rather than cultural history, this Companion addresses the gap and provides university students with a vast introduction to an impressive range of authors.

"Staging Social Death: Alienation and Embodiment in Aishah Rahman's Unfinished Women"

Featured in The Psychic Hold of Slavery: Legacies in American Culture.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
What would it mean to “get over slavery”? Is such a thing possible? Is it even desirable? Should we perceive the psychic hold of slavery as a set of mental manacles that hold us back from imagining a postracist America?

“Amiri Baraka.”

Amiri Baraka (b. 1934–d. 2014) was born Everett LeRoy Jones in Newark, New Jersey.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, he left Greenwich Village and moved to Harlem to take up the work Malcolm had begun. Rejecting his bohemian past, he committed himself to black nationalism and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre­School to radicalize the poor through art.

“Queering the Black Arts Movement”

In 1970 Black Panther leader Huey Newton published a letter in The Black Panther newspaper about women’s liberation and gay liberation.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:

Newton s statement made one year after Stonewall and the same month Newton was released from prison takes the unorthodox step of suggesting the importance of black radical organizations and collectives.

“Scenes of Vulnerability: Desire, Historical Secrecy, and Black Queer Experience in Tarell McCraney’s Marcus”

From The Expressive Art of Tarell McCraney. Ed. David Román, Sharrell Luckett, and Isaiah Wooden.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
Forthcoming June 2020

Publications

"Vanishing Acts: Civil Rights Reform and Dramatic Inversion in Douglas T. Ward's Day of Absence"

Laws are passed in a crisis mood after a Birmingham or Selma, but no substantial fervor survives the formal signing of legislation.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:

Martin Luther King Jr.’s assessment of the incomplete nature of civil rights, even in the midst of historic legislative change, resonates with experiments in African American literary and performance culture of the 1960s.

Read "Vanishing Acts: Civil Rights Reform and Dramatic Inversion in Douglas T. Ward's Day of Absence."

Radical Aesthetics and Modern Black Nationalism

Radical Aesthetics and Modern Black Nationalism explores the long-overlooked links between black nationalist activism and the renaissance of artistic experimentation emerging from recent African American literature, visual art, and film.

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
GerShun Avilez charts a new genealogy of contemporary African American artistic production that illuminates how questions of gender and sexuality guided artistic experimentation in the Black Arts Movement from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. As Avilez shows, the artistic production of the Black Arts era provides a set of critical methodologies and paradigms rooted in the disidentification with black nationalist discourses. Avilez's close readings study how this emerging subjectivity, termed aesthetic radicalism, critiqued nationalist rhetoric in the past. It also continues to offer novel means for expressing black intimacy and embodiment via experimental works of art and innovative artistic methods.

Service & Outreach

Director, Graduate Studies

Director, Graduate Studies at the University of Maryland English Department

English

Lead: GerShun Avilez
Dates:
Fall 2019-Spring 2022