I arrived at Princeton in 2005. Having applied to Ph.D. programs as an undergraduate, I made the jump to graduate school with little sense of what awaited me, either as a graduate student or later as a faculty member. Luckily, Princeton was a place where I could learn ‘on the job’ while exploring all my weird ideas: What if John Cheever was a race theorist? How did the skyscraper shape literary form? How do you see and feel race as a material housed within an environment?
At Princeton I certainly became a sharper reader and a smoother writer, while also learning how to ask a question and formulate a project. But perhaps most meaningfully to me, Princeton taught me how to think with others. From graduate seminars and colloquia to office hours, chapter meetings, and precepts, I often felt that I was tackling questions collaboratively and that the ideal scholarly mode was to be in conversation—whether I was on an academic roundtable or in the depths of the library late at night trying to write my way into a scholarly conversation. From Tim Watson’s seminar in which he invited graduate students to help him to produce the syllabus for his course on the 1950’s, to working with my fellow graduate student Nadia Ellis to bring Junot Díaz to campus to talk about the plight of the black nerd, to the graduate workshops curated by faculty of the Center for African American Studies where graduate students introduced senior people in the field and commented on and lead discussion of their work, I marvel at all the things I did with others while at Princeton. I was learning to do what still makes the academy invigorating and worthwhile to me: working with people to have new thoughts.
In 2011 I became an assistant professor at the University of Chicago where collaborative inquiry has continued to shape my work. I co-edited the volume Race and Real Estate with one of my graduate advisors, Valerie Smith, and co-wrote the introduction to a previously unpublished W.E.B. Du Bois short story with Britt Rusert. At Chicago I ask my students to help me generate syllabi, I curate workshops with my colleagues, and I conduct my own research in conversation with other scholars. My book, The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race, is a product of this collaborative thinking, emerging from my efforts to think with architectural historians and critical race theorists to account for how architecture shapes the material life of race.