J. Michelle Coghlan

Cohort 2004–2005. I took a slightly circuitous path to graduate school, arriving in the fall of 2004 after spending a year as an Americorps volunteer at a high school in West Oakland and the previous one teaching elementary school English in the suburbs of Paris. My eventual dissertation topic, which brought together my interest in American literature, radical memory and French history, was borne out of both my peregrinations and the great good fortune of finding myself in an English department that encouraged us to see where our ideas might lead even when they didn’t neatly fit the demarcations of our chosen literary field. I defended my dissertation in 2011 and spent two years as a post-doctoral lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program before starting my current position at the University of Manchester in the UK, where I recently was promoted to Senior Lecturer in American Studies.

One of the most important lessons I learned at Princeton was to see my teaching as vitally connected to—and, indeed, as an animating force in—my research rather than as a distraction from it. One of my first publications, “‘Absolutely Punk’: Queer Economies of Desire in Tarzan of the Apes” emerged out of a reading I’d initially floated in a precept for Bill Gleason’s wonderful American Bestsellers course, and my first book, Sensational Internationalism: The Paris Commune and the Remapping of American Memory in the Long Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh UP, 2016), which won the 2017 Arthur Miller Centre First Book Prize from the British Association for American Studies, benefitted greatly from the conversations I had with my Occupy Everything” seminar students over the years. My recent work editing The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Food (Cambridge UP, 2020) was shaped by questions raised and excitement shared by my Food Matters students in my freshman seminar at Princeton and later at Manchester, much as my second book project-in-progress, Culinary Designs—about the rise of food writing and the making of American tastehas been marked by them.

I’d spent very little time in Britain before starting my job here, and—seven years on—it continues to be both a delight and a slightly vertiginous experience to find myself working in a very different academic system in a culture that can feel, at times, surprisingly alien. But my time at Princeton not only did much to prepare me for this transition, it also gifted me with some of the most generous and incandescent of interlocutors—a support network of advisors, mentors, and friends on which I continue to rely. What I cherish most, in fact, about my time at Princeton was the richness of the conversations I had there, and the profound collegiality of the place. But it’s also what has most stayed with me—for thankfully it is, as Hemingway once said of Paris, a moveable feast.”