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11-18-2014

Clarkson University Professor Michael Garcia Publishes Book on Autobiography and Ethnic Identity

Michael Garcia, assistant professor of literature at Clarkson University, has published a book on autobiography and ethnicity. The book, Autobiography in Black and Brown, offers a theory of autobiography, as well as of ethnic identity.

The cover of Autobiography in Black and BrownPublished by the University of New Mexico Press, one of the world’s foremost publishers of ethnic studies scholarship, the book takes a comparative ethnic approach to the literary genre of autobiography. Ethnic autobiography, Garcia argues, mirrors the dual nature of the self as both narrative and embodied. By reading ethnic autobiography we can better understand identity, ethnicity, and the social self.

Garcia observes that what the reader thinks they know about the author’s ethnicity frames how they read texts by ethnic authors. This has profound implications that challenge our assumptions about literary interpretation and meaning. It means that extratextual details (things that are external to the text), such as the author’s assumed race, gender and ethnicity, alter our interpretation of the text.

Arguing against both racial/sexual essentialism and absolute relativism, Garcia urges readers to be skeptical realists. "The skeptical realist stance acknowledges that ethnicity is not biologically determined, but recognizes that it is just as real," he says. "Ethnicity is a narrative, and it exists in social reality rather than in biological reality. Our narratives of identity have very real consequences in our lives, and some of these narratives, such as narratives of gender and ethnicity, are much more visible in society than others. Because narrative matters so much, print culture (the written narrative of books and other writing) plays a profound role in shaping ethnic lives -- and consciousness itself."

Reviewers of Autobiography in Black and Brown have called it “an important contribution to the study of American life writing” that “sweeps us off our feet. With great acuity [Garcia] offers a remarkable and total vision of how the autobiographical format in the hands of such masters as Wright and Rodriguez radically reshapes our sense of what it means to be Black and Brown in the United States.”

The book is available at the University Bookstore (39 Market Street, Potsdam, N.Y.), which plans to host an author signing in early December. For more information, contact the bookstore at 315-268-3862.

Previews of the book are available on Amazon (Autobiography in Black and Brown) and Google Books.  

Garcia teaches courses in American literature, including Latina/o literature and the popular Science Fiction and American Short Story courses at Clarkson.

His research interests include translation, autobiography, ethnic literature, and twentieth-century American literature. He has published scholarly articles on various writers (including Richard Rodriguez, Vladimir Nabokov, Richard Wright, and Helena María Viramontes), with his work appearing in numerous academic journals, as well as in the critical collections Identifying with Freedom and The Culture and Philosophy of Ridley Scott.

Garcia is also the translator of Indonesian author Djenar Maesa Ayu’s celebrated collection of short stories, They Say I’m a Monkey. Garcia is a former Fulbright Fellow and received his doctoral degree in American literature from Cornell University.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[An image for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/autobiography-in-black-and-brown.jpg.]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or aharrison@clarkson.edu.]

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