Jaime Harker, an English professor and director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi, will participate in a monthlong fellowship this summer at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in California.
Harker was among four individuals appointed as a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellow. She was chosen from 125 applicants, 60 of whom received awards of some kind.
Isherwood was an English-American author of novels, plays and screenplays, among other texts. As a gay man, Isherwood was interested in the role of sexuality in identity and culture, and he explored this in his novels and essays. Born in northern England in 1904, Isherwood became a citizen of the United States in 1946 and died at his home in Santa Monica, California, in 1986.
“I have never been able to spend a full month at an archive, so this gives me a remarkable opportunity to uncover material that hasn’t been analyzed and discussed before,” Harker said. “I feel very fortunate.”
Her project proposal, titled “Pacific Rimming: Christopher Isherwood, Queer Expatriatism and Cold War Orientalism,” will build on Isherwood’s critique of queer orientalism through a case study of his spiritual and intellectual commitments and how his critique coexisted with sexual colonialism and Eurocentric revulsion. The project will explore how this influenced his writings and persona.
Harker was initially interested in Isherwood because of his conversion to Hinduism and how that allowed him to reconcile his spirituality and sexuality. She wrote a book about Isherwood titled “Middlebrow Queer: Christopher Isherwood in America.”
“I look forward to going back to Isherwood’s complicated relationships to the Pacific Rim, both as a sex tourist and a Hindu convert, to consider the ways these connected and informed his writing, identity as a gay man and identity as a religious devotee,” she said. “I think the ongoing question of how to reconcile one’s spirituality and sexuality is particularly germane, especially for my LGBTQ students, and I like the idea of adding Isherwood to the larger conversation.”
The Huntington, in San Marino, California, is a collections-based research and educational institution that provides scholars with access to a collection of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, paintings, prints, sculptures and other decorative arts.
Harker will begin her research there by looking through diaries, drafts and correspondence with gay men to find unexpected topics of discussion. She is hoping to also review photographs and home movies housed in the archives.
She was recommended to The Huntington by Chris Freeman, English professor at the University of Southern California.
“Jaime Harker’s work on Isherwood and mid-20th century popular culture is simply brilliant: groundbreaking, original and resourceful,” Freeman said. “In ‘Middlebrow Queer,’ she used archival material, including fan mail, to assess Isherwood’s readership.
“Her new work, drawn from her talk at a recent Huntington conference on Isherwood, will be published in ‘Isherwood in Transit.’ These are major contributions to our thinking about Isherwood and his world.”
For more information about The Huntington, visit http://www.huntington.org.
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