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One Ph.D.’s Journey from Thomas Jefferson to Latinx Literature

May 31, 2018

Edgar Garcia is currently the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in English and Creative Writing at the University of Chicago, but his academic career took some unexpected turns along the way. When he arrived at the Yale English department, he was fully prepared to focus on early American literature, studying the writings of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Before he was interested in the poetics of the early republic, he studied medieval literature and culture as an undergraduate. And before that, he was a non-traditional student, studying at community college before attending the University of California-Berkeley. The department was supportive when, early in his Ph.D. study, his interests migrated to 20th century literature of the Americas, with an especially deep engagement in the fields of indigenous and Latinx studies.

I had a fellowship at the Beinecke, and that fundamentally changed my project. The resources at the Beinecke made 20th century poetics more materially resonant,” he said.
However, Garcia’s mentors and colleagues were by far the most valuable resource. Garcia cited the strong scholarly community at Yale as an important factor in his success. This community manifested in a number of ways, from the more concrete work of reading and discussing his work, to the affective and emotional resources that come with friendship and collegiality.
Meanwhile, the myriad of teaching opportunities available to Garcia and other students in the English department helped him to become more pedagogically savvy. While teaching at Yale as a Ph.D. student, he was able to personalize his courses and tailor them to the diversity of Yale’s undergraduate population.

Edgar had an electrifying effect on the department, making us see American literature with new eyes through a hemispheric lens, putting the experimental energies of indigenous and Latino/a authors front and center,” said Wai Chee Dimock, Garcia’s advisor and the William Lampson Professor of English & American Studies. 

I give Yale a lot of credit. I didn’t have the portfolio that one might associate with a graduate student at Yale, but the department and admissions committee appreciated the importance of bringing me in as a meaningful voice in academia,” he said. “And I want to continue this project of bringing underrepresented voices in: people from places of subordinated difference.”
One of the figures Garcia’s scholarship focuses on epitomizes this desire. A fellowship through the Yale Club of San Francisco gave Garcia the opportunity to do archival research on the West Coast, and it was during this period that he discovered the papers of Jaime de Angulo, an early 20th-century poet and anthropologist, at UCLA. Examining de Angulo’s work helped distill the questions that Garcia finds most compelling: what kinds of communication are possible across linguistic and cultural boundaries? What happens to signs and symbols—the building blocks of language, literature, and culture—as they migrate from Latin to Romance languages in the medieval period, and between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures? How are frameworks of nationalism and capitalism captured in “pre-literate” systems of communications, and how do they shift our understanding of these phenomena and globalization itself?

That’s the great thing about graduate education,” Garcia said. “You identify the questions that really interest you.”

By Sean Blink, Website and Social Media Fellow