GerShun Avilez


Greenlaw 205/517

Director of Graduate Studies

Associate Professor

Director, UNC Program in Sexuality Studies

Affiliate Faculty, Institute of African American Research and Department of Women's & Gender Studies

GerShun Avilez received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned a Graduate Certificate in Africana Studies.  He has taught at Yale University and held the Frederick Douglass Post-doctoral Fellowship at the University of Rochester.  He is a cultural studies scholar who specializes in contemporary African American literature and visual culture and 20th century American literature in general.  His teaching extends to the literature of the Black Diaspora.  Much of his scholarship explores how questions of gender and sexuality inform artistic production.  He also works in the fields of political radicalism, spatial theory, and legal studies.

His book Radical Aesthetics & Modern Black Nationalism (Illinois) appeared in 2016 as a part of “The New Black Studies” Series.  The book investigates how Black nationalist rhetoric impacted African American artistic experimentation in the late 20th and 21st centuries through an examination of drama, novels, poetry film, and visual art.  He is at work on two new book-length projects on (1) Black sexuality and artistic culture and (2) questions of space in African American literature and cultural history.  Throughout his work and teaching, he is committed to studying a wide variety of art forms, including, drama, fiction, non-fiction, film, poetry, visual and performance art, ethnography, and comic books.

During Fall 2015, he was the UNC Arts @ The Core Curatorial Fellow.  As a fellow, he selected a series of 2 performances on civil rights for Carolina Performing Arts that will premiere during the 2016-17 school year: Labels (November 2016) and Bayou Blues (February 2017). 

He serves on the editorial board of the journals American Literature and Ethos: A Digital Review of Arts, Humanities & Public Ethics (  


Upcoming Talks/Presentations:

November 17, 2016: American Studies Association, Roundtable: "You Can't Go Home Again: Slavery, Displacement, and Black Belonging."

January 6, 2017: Modern Language Association, “The Queer Nationalist Imaginary: Black Kinship, Art, and Activism in Home Girls" ("Racial Configuration of Queer Kinship" Panel).  

March 31, 2017: Hampshire College, The Black Aesthetics Conference: "Queerness & the Black Radical Imaginary"

April 10, 2017: Princeton University, "Movement in Black: Civil Rights Legislation and the Desire for Spatial Justice"


Selected Publications:

-Radical Aesthetics and Modern Black Nationalism (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2016).

-“Staging Social Death: Alienation and Embodiment in Aishah Rahman’s Unfinished Women in The Psychic Hold of Slavery: Legacies in American Culture, eds. Soyica Diggs Colbert, Robert Patterson, and Aida Levy-Hussen (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016, 107-24.

-Book Review: Woubshet, Dagmawi. The Calendar of Loss: Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early AIDS Era. Literature and History 25.1 (2016): 112-114.

-"The Black Arts Movement." The Cambridge Companion to Literature of American Civil Rights.  Ed. Julie Armstrong.  New York: Cambridge UP, 2015. 49-64. 

"Queer Forms, Black Lives: Melvin Dixon, Assotto Saint and Artistic Experimentation." Black Gay Genius. Eds. Steven Fulwood and Charles Stephens. New York: Vintage Entity, 2014. 165-71.

-"The Aesthetics of Terror: Constructing 'Felt Threat' in Those Bones are Not My Child and Leaving Atlanta."  Obsidian: Literature of the African Diaspora. Special Issue: Violence & Black Youth in Post-Civil Rights U.S. 13.2 (2014). 12-27.

-“African American Writing Until 1930.”  The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature.  Ed. Mikko Tuhkanen and Ellen McCallum.  New York: Cambridge UP, 2014. 305-322.

-"Cartographies of Desire: Mapping Queer Space in the Fiction of Samuel Delany and Darieck Scott."  Callaloo 34.1 (2011): 128-42.

-“Housing the Black Body: Value, Domestic Space, and African-American Segregation Narratives.”  African American Review 42.1 (Spring 2008): 135-47.  Reprinted in: Representing Segregation: Toward an Aesthetics of Living Jim Crow and Other Forms of Racial Division.  Ed. Piper Kendrix Williams and Brian Norman.  Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2010.  131-47.


Courses Taught:

English 89: Black Masculinity & Femininity 

English 345: 20th Century American Literature 

English 354/Public Policy 354: The Lived Experience of Inequality (Fall 2017)

English 369: Contemporary African American Literature & Culture

English 370: Race, Health & Narrative 

English 466: Art & Social Radicalism 

English 763: Intro to Literature, Medicine & Culture (Spring 2017)

English 871: Theorizing Radicalism: Race, Sex, & Performance 

English 872: Seminar in African American and Black Diasporic Literature (Spring 2017)

Teaching Awards

Poorvu Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching, 2011 (Yale University)


Hire Date: 2013

Ph.D. in English, University of Pennsylvania (2009)

*Graduate Certificate, Africana Studies (2007)

Research Groups and Interests

Literature, Medicine, and Culture
Group IX - Critical Theory and Cultural Studies
Group VII - American Literature from 1900 to the Present
Group XI - African American Literature