Department of English


Stephanie Li

Research Interests

Stephanie Li's research focuses on the ways in which issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality influence conceptions of freedom. Her 2010 book from SUNY Press, "Something Akin to Freedom": The Choice of Bondage in Narratives by African American Women, which won the First Book Prize in African American Studies, examines how the decision to remain enslaved represents alternative forms of agency which include the protection of personal relationships and the development of community bonds. This analysis not only introduces reproduction, mother-child relationships, and community into discourses concerning resistance, but it also expands individual liberation to include the courage to express personal desire and the freedom to love. Li proposes that black women operate upon "intra-independence," a form of freedom that works through and within relationships rather than upon the valorization of individual achievements.

Li's third book, Signifying Without Specifying: Racial Discourse in the Age of Obama, was published this fall by Rutgers University Press. This study of contemporary political rhetoric and 21st-century literary texts argues that American politicians and writers are using a new kind of language to speak about race. Challenging the notion that we have moved into a "post-racial" era, she suggests that we are in an uneasy moment where American public discourse demands that race be seen, but not heard. Analyzing contemporary political speech with nuanced readings of works by such authors as Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Colson Whitehead, Li investigates how Americans of color have negotiated these tensions, inventing new ways to signal racial affiliations without violating taboos against open discussions of race.

Li  also published a short biography of Toni Morrison in 2009 and is co-editing a special issue of American Literary History entitled "Writing the Presidency" which examines the intersection of politics and literature through a variety of narrative forms.

Fellowships, Honors & Awards

  • Professor Li teaches classes primarily in 19th- and 20th-century American literature as well as creative writing.

Courses Offered (subject to change)

  • Professor Li teaches classes primarily in 19th- and 20th-century American literature as well as creative writing.

Selected Publications

  • Signifying without Specifying: Racial Discourse in the Age of Obama, Rutgers 2011
  • Something Akin to Freedom: The Choice of Bondage in Narratives by African American Women, SUNY 2010
  • Toni Morrison: A Biography, Greenwood 2009
  • "Gardening, Mothering and Storytelling in Leslie Marmon Silko's Garden in the Dunes," in Studies in American Indian Literatures 21.1 (spring 2009)
  • "Becoming Her Mother's Mother: Recreating Home and the Self in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name," in Reclaiming Home, Remembering Motherhood, Rewriting History: African American and Afro-Caribbean Women's Literature in the Twentieth Century, ed. Marie Drews and Verena Theile, Cambridge Scholars 2009
  • "'Sometimes things disappear':  Absence and Mutability in Colson Whitehead's The Colossus of New York," in Literature after 9/11, ed. Ann Keniston and Jeanne Follansbee Quinn, Routledge 2008, 82-98
  • "Racial Alliances in a White Neo-Slave Narrative: Susan Straight's A Million Nightingales," in Revisiting Slave Narratives II, ed. Judith Misrahi-Barak, Les Carnets du Cerpac 2007, 249-73
  • "Resistance, Silence, and Plaçees: Bon's Octoroon Mistress and Louisa Picquet," in American Literature 79:1 (march 2007), 85-112
  • "Love and the Trauma of Resistance in Gayl Jones's Corregidora," in Callaloo 29:1 (winter 2006), 131-50