PhD, University of Michigan230 Mergenthaler
Shani Mott is an Instructor for Africana Studies. She earned her MA and PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan and a BA in English and African-American Studies from Wesleyan University.
Shani’s research interests address how mid-twentieth century writers of both fiction and non-fiction strategically deployed racial language in American popular culture. Her book manuscript, "Saving the Soul of the Great Republic: Imagining Race and Writing Democracy," explores how authors of American novels used race as a progressive force in answering complex questions about sexuality, economic inequality, and political power. The book argues that authors writing during the inter- and postwar years of the twentieth century relied on “literary racial transvestism," a practice wherein black authors wrote novels with predominantly white characters and white authors attempted to write blackness. Such attempts provided writers with privileges otherwise denied them, be it access to publishing companies, increased readership, or even a fuller acknowledgment of a given author's American citizenship. Her more recent work extends her interest in the history of publishing and cultural reception to consider how contemporary urban fiction has come to define African American Literature and replace more canonical black fiction, often at the dismay of present-day black literati. Her work in progress Ghetto Fictions tracks the public debates about the usefulness and respectability of such a literature, and Shani sees the genre as a participant in and product of the larger and global self-help industry.
Prior to coming to Johns Hopkins, Shani designed and taught secondary school curriculum with a focus on racial literacy and American Literature. Her experience in the classroom has sparked her desire to put her scholarly interest at the work of public education. Shani was a Master Teacher in Liberal Studies at NYU, has held a postdoctoral fellowship in English at Johns Hopkins University and also taught in Barry University’s English Department while directing its Africana Studies Program. Her work has been supported by the University of Notre Dame Erskine Peters Fellowship and the Mellon Foundation.