ASLE’s Scholar of the Month for June 2020 is Kristen Angierski.
Kristen Angierski is a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, where she is currently completing a dissertation project titled “Fictions of Empathy: Embodied Ethics in Contemporary Anthropocene Literature.” Her work has been published in ISLE, Gothic Nature, and a forthcoming edited collection on the genre of ecohorror. She will be transitioning to high school teaching this fall.
How did you become interested in studying ecocriticism and/or the environmental humanities?
I think the seed was planted during a “Food and Gender” course I took in undergrad with Professor Kate McCullough. We read Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and I became fascinated by (obsessed with) the links between gender and food politics. I wrote my undergrad thesis on eating disorders in fiction. My Master’s work at the University at Buffalo on Palestinian feminist Sahar Khalifeh broadened my understanding of the relationship between landscapes and bodies, a preoccupation that also drives my doctoral work. In short, I came to the environmental humanities through gender studies. More personally, I’ve always been an “animal person,” and I ultimately want any scholarship I produce to be, in some small way, of service to the nonhuman creatures with whom we share the planet. The environmental humanities was a logical intellectual home. It rooted my scholarship and teaching in the things I care most about.
Who is your favorite environmental artist, writer, or filmmaker? Or what is your favorite environmental text? Why?
I can’t pick a single favorite, but I have a current top three. Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is an astonishing novel that brings gender inequality, agriculture, and eating disorders into the same novelistic space. It’s probably the text that inspired my dissertation work. I also love teaching Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation for its weird aesthetics and its refusal to give readers, and my students, all the answers. Finally, I love Robert Eggers’ The Witch for its brilliant, spooky rendering of ecophobia, misogyny, and religion.
What are you currently working on?
I am finishing up my dissertation and defending it late this summer. It is broadly about the limitations of environmental empathy. Though I’m still working on articulating the origin story of the project, I think it emerged out of my discomfort with the idea that studying literature in general and environmentalist literature specifically is valuable insofar as it inculcates empathetic identification. Outside of the dissertation, I am very excited to be preparing for a new career as a high school (11th and 12th grade) English teacher. I will be teaching both generalist English courses and environmental humanities electives (though in what format, virtual or in-person, remains to be seen). I am thrilled to finally have the time to focus entirely on pedagogy.
What is something you are reading right now (environmental humanities-related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally? Comment briefly on why or how it inspires you.
Sabrina Scott’s Witchbody is a beautiful graphic novel that is at once academic and deeply personal. I am inspired by the way she makes concepts like magic, witchcraft, and spirituality academically legible, theoretically rigorous, and environmentally relevant. I taught sections of it in my “Witch Narratives” class and re-read it all the time. I am always inspired by scholars who push at the borders and boundaries of traditional academic writing.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you? Why?
I can think of many (Ruha Benjamin, Stacy Alaimo, Donna Haraway, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Mel Chen), but as a teacher, I want to shine an admiring light on all my teachers over the past ten (!) years at Cornell, and most especially my advisors: Anindita Banerjee, Elizabeth S. Anker, Kate McCullough, and Elisha Cohn. I have been so lucky to be guided by such brilliant, supportive people. I am only a good teacher because I have had great teachers.