Dartmouth Faculty In the Classroom and Beyond

This is the third in a three-part series about professors and their work. Here’s a look at part one and part two.

Melanie Benson Taylor
Associate Professor of Native American Studies

I’m currently writing a book called Faulkner’s Doom, which revisits the entire canon of this American literary giant to reassess the centrality of indigenous tropes in his world and work. Like many influential American authors, Faulkner doesn’t portray Native peoples as “real” Indians—and my work is not designed to indict him for that, or even to set the record straight about what “real” Mississippi Chickasaws were like. Instead, I’m interested in figuring out why writers like Faulkner (and Hemingway, Cather, even Toni Morrison) return so often to Native American themes.

I was committed to literature from the moment I read my first words at the age of 3. Of course, growing up in a working-class environment, I had no conception of what a career in literary studies could possibly mean. In a romantic way, I thought I might just be “a writer”—until my junior year in college, when one of my English professors encouraged me to apply to doctoral programs in American literature. A whole new set of opportunities came into view for me then, and I never looked back.

Professionally, I sometimes ask myself, is anyone listening? Not necessarily to the literary scholars, but to the voices and experiences we strive to bring to light. Literature offers us a window into alternate worlds, but also affirms our shared humanity. In a world that grows continually more divisive and frenetic, I hope that we never lose the hypnotic and transformative power of a good book. If we let it, literature can be a pathway to humanity, compassion, and grace.

Read the full article in Dartmouth Now, published on December 18, 2013.