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March 29, 2013
Search Committee Center for the Study of the American South
410 East Franklin Street, CB 9127
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127
Dear Search Committee members:
I write to apply for the position of Associate Director at the Center for the Study of the American South. I have been involved with (and indebted to) the Center since my first year of graduate school (2006-07), when I received a Hugh C. McColl Fellowship to support my research on Southern and African American literature. At the time, the “Center” was physically scattered throughout Hamilton Hall and a few satellite offices; since then, I like to think that we have both come a long way. Next month, I will complete my dissertation on “Narrative Empathy in American Literature, 1845-1945,” and I recently handed over the editorial reins of The Southern Literary Journal after serving for four years as Managing Editor.
My graduate coursework (in addition to undergraduate years spent “up North”) prompted me to reconsider the stable and unproblematic entity that I knew as “the South” while growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina. My interest in African American literature led me to UNC’s digital collection of North American Slave Narratives, and I have since written or edited summaries of over fifty of these texts. This work resulted in an article on three little-known slave narratives by African Muslims in the American South, which recently appeared in the peer-reviewed journal a/b: Auto/Biography Studies. My committee has also helped me investigate the South from other perspectives, in an attempt to move beyond the black/white racial binary that has often dominated Southern Studies. I recently completed an essay (currently under review) on Monique Truong’s 2010 novel Bitter in the Mouth, which chronicles the life of a young Vietnamese American girl in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. This novel speaks meaningfully to the question posed by Leslie Bow in her recent monograph Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South: “Where did the Asian sit on the segregated bus?” Similar questions have recently been posed regarding other ethnic and cultural minorities within the South. It was, in fact, always a “global South,” but (white) southerners have not always perceived it as such.
For the last seven years, the Center has served as an intellectual hub, support network, and source of inspiration for me, along with countless other scholars. In 2009 I collaborated with graduate students from the Music Department, the History Department, and the Folklore Program to assemble a Traveling Exhibition for the Southern Governors’ Association, in honor of SGA’s 75th anniversary. More recently I have served as a reviewer for the Center’s excellent journal, Southern Cultures, and as a panel moderator at the Center’s Interdisciplinary Conference for Graduate Research. Last summer, CSAS generously funded my travel to Oxford, Mississippi, where I delivered a paper (along with two graduate student colleagues) discussing William Faulkner’s use of antebellum plantation diaries as a source for many of his characters and plots, as well as his unique style of literary modernism. The paper was honored as an exceptional submission to the annual “Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha” conference and selected for publication in the conference proceedings. I am grateful for the support that the Center has provided for these projects, and I would be honored to contribute to future CSAS endeavors.
At the heart of Southern Studies lies a paradox: the place(s) and culture(s) that fall under the lenses of our intellectual microscopes are both home and not-home: simultaneously heimlich and unheimlich. In order to focus properly upon the object of inquiry, a certain distance is necessary—and yet most scholars of the American South (however that troublesome entity is defined) also identify with it in various ways. Over the years, I have come to think of this as the “grits question”: can you enjoy your grits and study them too? Zora Neale Hurston understood this problem all too well; in the introduction to her groundbreaking collection Mules and Men, she wrote that before leaving the South, “Negro folklore… was fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn’t see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings, that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment.” She returned to Eatonville, of course, and her dual status as an insider/outsider ultimately enabled her work as an anthropologist, as an ethnographer, and as an artist. But navigating this balance can be a tricky business, and those of us who study and appreciate southern literature, history, and culture must always remind ourselves of the “tight chemise.”
I am aware that the position of Associate Director will require more than an academic interest in the American South. The job description mentions “day-to-day management of the Center” and “supervision of staff and programs,” as well as financial administration, fundraising activities, publicity for CSAS events, and public outreach activities. This range of responsibilities will require energy, diplomacy, and effective time management. I believe my background as an Air Force Intelligence Officer would serve me well in this position. During my seven years on active duty, I was responsible for planning and executing missions that required effective personnel management, creative problem solving, and strategic communications. In addition to supervising several teams of intelligence analysts, I directed deployments to Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and I served as mission commander for classified air and ground operations throughout East Africa. In addition to allowing me to see the world and experience other cultures, these operations taught me how to get the job done, even under adverse or unforeseen circumstances. I would bring these skills and sensibilities to the Center for the Study of the American South, in addition to my academic interests and accomplishments.
I have submitted my curriculum vitae and a list of references separately, and I would be glad to provide letters of recommendation, transcripts, or a writing sample, if desired. I can be reached by phone at xxx or by email at xxx. Thank you for considering my application for this exciting position.
Patrick E. Horn