Advancing Racial Equity Speakers Bureau

I’m excited to serve on the speakers bureau as one of 15 people from across the state chosen by Indiana Humanities, our state humanities council. The 2023-2024 theme is Advancing Racial Equity.

I’ll be giving two major talks as part of the Speakers Bureau. One is entitled “Mirrors and Windows: Reading for & Beyond Empathy” and the other is “The Many Lives of Zora Neale Hurston.” The latter grew out of discussions and readings I did as part of my National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) work, Hurston on the Horizon. You can find the descriptions of my two talks below:

These and the descriptions of the other talks are available in the catalog linked here:

I’ll be giving multiple versions of these talks in 2024 across the state, some through the Speakers Bureau, and others in connection to Indiana Humanities’ One State / One Story program, whose book selections this year are Tiya Miles’ All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake and Ashley Bryan’s Freedom over Me. Ever since my work with the Op Ed Project, I’ve been thinking more about how to discuss complicated issues such as race and equity with the public. I’m looking forward to these public conversations about the humanities and literature.

As I told my institution recently, “The intercultural and interdisciplinary analyses that the humanities provide are needed now more than ever, especially when it comes to complicated, open-ended issues such as advancing equity. I’m honored to lead humanities-based discussions with the public on the important topics of racial equity, literature, and empathy. My talks are still being booked, but at this point, I know I’ll be hosted by at least eight different organizations across the state, which shows a clear need for us to continue having these vital conversations.”

On bell hooks and compassion

Many scholars, teachers, and readers mourned the death of author and activist bell hooks. I first read bell hooks’ work in a graduate course. We were fortunate to be assigned an excerpt from Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, which informs much of my teaching to this day.

With all of the recent events including the country’s reckoning with Black killings, the pandemic, and the anti-Asian racism that followed, I found myself thinking a lot about bell hooks and very generous and forthright approach to compassion.

I began reflecting on this in a form of an op-ed for my work with the Public Voices Fellowship (more info here). But then I got an e-mail from Dr. Ayesha Hardison, one of our fearless leaders of our NEH Institute workshop, Hurston on the Horizon. She invited everyone to submit writings for a special issue of Women, Gender, and Families of Color entitled “Honoring bell hooks’s Legacy: Humanist, Feminist, Public Intellectual, Social Critic, and Educator.” It was nice to have the opportunity to think more deeply about hooks’s thoughts on compassion in the company of fellow scholars, readers, and fans. We even had a kickoff on Zoom to celebrate the issue’s completion.

The special issue’s guest editors Cécile Accilien, Manisha Desai, and Luz María Gordillo also serve as members of the journal’s editorial board. In place of a traditional preface, they created a trailer of their conversation about the issue. You can view it here:

Guest editors’ recorded introduction. The full video is available here.

The essay I wrote, titled “Trusting in the Power of Compassion,” ended up being more personal than usual. I also talked a bit about Lauren Berlant, who died around the same time as hooks. You can read it in its entirety here:

Novel Subjects book talk!

My book, Novel Subjects: Authorship as Radical Self-Care in Multiethnic American Narratives, turned a year old this past June, and a lot has happened since its publication!

Just before it was published, I was able to give a talk on it for one of my favorite organizations, The Circle of Asian American Literary Studies (or CAALS); I do a brief recap of that talk at this link.

A bit later on January 2022, I got some still-amazing-to-me news: Novel Subjects won the Midwest Modern Language Association Book Award.

Novel Subjects: Authorship as Radical Self-Care in Multiethnic American Narratives - MMLA 2021 Book Award winner - blurb: “Milne offers a bold intervention in the field of contemporary American literature: a defense of multiculturalism at a time when it seems to have been largely abandoned except in corporate circles. When so much of American political discourse seems to be beholden to a resurgent anti-immigrant ethnonationalism, such a defense is welcome.”—Min Hyoung Song, author, The Children of 1965: On Writing, and Not Writing, as an Asian American

Most recently, I gave a #USSOBookHour talk about Novel Subjects to US Studies Online, an organization that bills itself as “the Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher webspace of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS).”

My first experience with this organization was way back in 2015, when I was still a graduate student UNCG. My advisor and mentor, the great Dr. María Carla Sánchez, was (and remains) very actively involved in the Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW). She encouraged me to write a short article for this thing they were doing–a series of articles they were doing in collaboration with US Studies Online. From that resulted one of my first online articles, “(In)Visibility, Race, and Ethnicity in American Women’s Writing throughout the Twentieth Century.” (I remain proud of the fact that it sports a picture of Mindy Kaling and a book by Gina Apostol.)

A few months later, US Studies Online invited me to lead a USSO Book Hour. Back then, these events were public, moderated book-group-style discussions. I definitely dealt with imposter syndrome while leading an online discussion about Toni Morrison’s novel God Help the Child along with Justine Baillie, Michelle Green, and Susan N. Mayberry, but it was a lot of fun.

I ended up talking about Morrison’s novel again in my talk last week. In the current format of USSOBookHour, a scholar gives a talk about their book, and then takes questions from attendees. Organizer Aija Oksman from The University of Edinburgh informed me that a number of the early career and graduate student attendees wanted to know about how Novel Subjects went from dissertation-to-book, so I included that in my talk as well. You can find more about the event at the below link, and a recording below

NPR Code Switch: When Xenophobia Spreads Like A Virus

In this episode of Code Switch from NPR, the amazing historian Erika Lee (author of The Making of Asian America: A History) breaks down the connections between xenophobia and the coronavirus known as COVID-19. By the way, that’s me speaking in the first 12 seconds of the episode.

Issues of contagion and concealment go hand-in-hand, especially when the contagion involves viruses unseeable by the naked human eye, or what one author who I won’t name referred to as the “the faceless brown mass” of those entering the US from Mexico. Associating contagion with a particular group of people allows some to place blame without taking on responsibility.

Of all the things I said for the episode, I’m really glad the assistant editor chose to use this particular snippet on visibility. I’ve been contemplating issues of in/visibility for years now. Here, for instance, is a blog post from when I was connecting invisibility to race and gender in literature: (More of my articles and online posts are located here.)

Click this link to listen to the episode of Code Switch on NPR, “When Xenophobia Spreads Like a Virus”:

NPR Code Switch Erika Lee coronavirus COVID-19 Leah Milne