Sonya Posmentier

Cohort 2005–2006.  I came to Princeton in 2005, several years out of college, having already had a career as an independent school teacher and administrator. I defended my dissertation in 2012, at which point I began my current position as an assistant professor in the English Department at New York University. I’m a scholar of African American and Black diasporic literature, with particular interests in poetry and poetics, environmental writing, and more recently the intellectual histories of Black studies, literary studies, and their intersection. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on Race and Nature, African American Literature, Black Cultural Theory, Modern Poetry in English, as well as major requirements like American Literature and Introduction to the Study of English. I’m also politically active in the Sanctuary Movement on and off campus and in advocacy for equity in public education, which I see as an extension of my research and teaching.

The faculty in the Princeton English department encouraged me to follow my intellectual questions where they led, even when the results were sometimes hard to slot into the conventional fields of study. I wrote my dissertation under the direction of Susan Stewart, Simon Gikandi, and Daphne Brooks, three scholars with enormous literary range who gave me a lot of freedom as I inquired into the intersections of environmental thought, race, and poetic form. They never thought it was strange for me to bring postcolonial theory to bear on African American texts, or to understand Caribbean geographies in relationship to sonnet forms (or if they did think it was strange, they didn’t let on). I’m very grateful for that trust and freedom. Also, because of the strong connection between the English department and what was then the Center for African American Studies, Princeton was a place where it was possible to study race and poetry together. This might not seem unusual but in some ways it is (in fact that rarity has become the focus of my second book project).

The other thing that shaped and continues to shape my work on an almost daily basis is the people who were part of my graduate cohort. Daphne used to tell us, “get used to one another because you’ll know each other for the rest of your lives,” and I’m so lucky that she was right. My colleagues from Princeton are still my first readers, a source of support through the tenure process, collaborators on conferences and writing projects, engaged in shared political activism, and in one case even a cherished departmental colleague. That has been the greatest gift, and it’s the kind of community I hope to foster as much as possible among my undergraduate and graduate students at NYU.

Selected Publications

Cultivation and Catastrophe: The Lyric Ecology of Modern Black Literature (Johns Hopkins University Press, June 2017)

“A Language for Grieving” (New York Times Book Review, December 2015)