About Me

Headshot photo of Morgan Gates

I am a Ph.D. student in the Literature Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Primarily, I specialize in twentieth century American literature with precise attention to visual and auditory culture.  I find myself here by way of Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey; Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California; the University of San Diego, where I earned my Bachelor’s; and San Diego State University, where I began graduate work and research that has led me to the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Each of these communities, specifically the mentors and fellow students with whom and from whom I learned, have contributed significantly to the trajectory of my academic career as a researcher and instructor.

My research explores the way cultural texts, whether literary, visual, material, sonic, performative, or popular, shape human and nonhuman lives, experiences, social relations, and power from the turn of the nineteenth century to the contemporary moment.  I investigate how representations of race, gender, and sexuality create meaning in literary movements and forms that developed within the twentieth century, from the usual materials of literature (print novels, poetry, and drama) to undervalued forms (graphic novels, ephemera, and bookish visual art).  The intersection of literary materials, content, and practices with visual art materials, content, and practices is frequently centered in my work.  Though grounded in fiction, my work also considers nonfictional, nonlinguistic expressive forms, including everyday objects, such as wallpaper, textiles, or school supplies, to think about how the circulation and use of objects and cultural formations shape human bodies and experiences.

The circulation of sounds in and as literary and visual material has been an essential focus of my work.  I have developed a theorization of silence as a sonic feminist mode that accommodates the resistance and humanity of racially and sexually marginalized subjects, black female bodies, real and imagined, who have been socially and culturally constructed as others/objects.  This project looks to ideologies and critiques of race and sexuality from the late nineteenth century to art, literature, and music of the twentieth century.  Listening to silence in my work is an essential way to hear, know, and perform resistance to racist ideologies.  This project begins with the silent music of John Cage as a lens to think sound and silence as fully expressive negations.  I examine the frame narrative of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings and Chandler’s retelling of “The Wonderful Tar-baby Story.”  Then, I move through the silences of Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby to demonstrate how silence associated with the central tar figure articulate complex resistances to sexual violence and stereotypes.  Moving toward a more explicitly graphic, in all senses, and divisive staging of silence and stereotypes in this project, I examine Kara Walker’s silhouette tableaus that depict Antebellum sexual power relations across the color line to think about the role of silence and print textuality at the intersection of gendered, racial, and sexual display in contemporary visual representation.  Finally, I examine Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz, and I demonstrate how silence becomes an erotic, sonic paratextual structure realized in the text’s media specific body, its blank pages, to think about how silence is a part of reading and experiencing the subjectivity of bodies rendered as texts.

Studying the history of the book, technologies of writing, and comparative media has also shaped my academic perspectives.  From these, I have worked on digital-born scholarly projects and presented one at SDSU’s Digital Humanities Initiative Showcase (2017).  This piece examined the recursivity of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, a highly experimental poetic text, arguing for ways of thinking established by the text that forge a type of writing possible outside of patriarchal and normative literary traditions of linear continuity.  Produced on Twine, my project analyzes and mimics the circular thinking of Stein’s poem via a web structure accessible by pursuing in-text links.  This project was designed with aesthetics in mind and contains original photographs taken in my home that mimic Stein’s homey, object oriented text.  Ultimately, my work is more than literary criticism; it is an argument for the creation of literary scholarship that is nonlinear, digital-born, nontraditional, and aesthetically pleasing.

I am looking forward to my continuing my professional, academic, and personal development (all with the help of my loving partner, Chris, and my faithful chihuahua, Cowboy) here in Santa Cruz.  You can find updated and detailed information on more of my research and professional activities under the “What’s New” page of this site.