Steven Lee

Assistant Professor
415 Wheeler
Office Hours, Spring 2015: (Revised) T 5-6:30 pm; Th 12:30-2 pm

Professional Statement

My research interests include twentieth-century American literature, comparative ethnic studies, and Soviet and post-Soviet studies.  After graduating from Amherst College, I was among the inaugural group of Fulbright students to conduct research in the Central Asian Republics, where I compared Soviet Korean and Korean American literatures and histories.  I went on to receive my doctorate from Stanford's Modern Thought and Literature program, spent a postdoctoral year at NYU's Center for the United States and the Cold War, and began teaching at Berkeley in 2009. I am also an affiliated faculty member at the Center for Korean Studies and the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. 


Selected Publications and Papers Delivered

“Langston Hughes’s ‘Moscow Movie’: Reclaiming a Lost Minority Avant-Garde.” Comparative Literature (Forthcoming, Spring 2015). 

“Chinese Communism, Cultural Revolution, and American Multiculturalism.” Ethnic Literatures and Transnationalism: Critical Imaginaries for the Global Age. Ed. Aparajita Nanda. New York: Routledge, 2014.

“Stalinist Cosmopolitanism.” Review of Moscow, the Fourth Rome by Katerina Clark. Criticism (Forthcoming).

Borat, Multiculturalism, Mnogonatsional’nost’.” Slavic Review 67, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 19-34.

  • Translated into Chinese and republished in Journal of the National Academy of Art 35, no. 2 (Hangzhou, 2014).
  • Translated into Russian and republished in Newsletter of Korean Studies in Central Asia 8, no. 16 (Almaty, 2009).

“‘Cultural Pluralism’ and ‘the Self-Determination of Nations’: Towards a Dialogue Between American Multiculturalism and Soviet Mnogonatsional’nost’.” Translated into Georgian. Georgian Journal of American Studies 4 (Tbilisi, 2006): 377-381.

Current Research

The Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution (Forthcoming, Columbia University Press, 2015) is the first sustained study of the encounters between the Soviet avant-garde and American minority artists and writers.  Drawing from extensive Russian archival sources, it seeks to capture the spirit of what the poet Claude McKay called the "magic pilgrimage" to the Soviet Union—to a new society that claimed to eliminate racial discrimination and that witnessed an explosion of artistic innovation.  In the 1920s and early 30s, the many diverse cultural figures who made the trip—including Herbert Biberman, Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson—could envision themselves at the forefront of modernism and revolution.  They became active participants in efforts to transform perception and to decenter the West—in Soviet experiments with art and equality that opened radical, forgotten horizons for American ethnic minorities. 

By pairing minority and avant-garde cultures, the book connects and enhances their similar efforts to level hierarchies and to bring art into life.  It does so by identifying an internationalist, previously unidentified "ethnic avant-garde," reconstructed through interwar travel narratives and artistic exchanges between the U.S. and USSR.  What bound this group was less phenotype than form, namely, the defining techniques of the Soviet avant-garde—montage, fragment, interruption.  It was also bound by a common orbit around interwar Moscow—Moscow as a site of both artistic innovation and world revolution, where the international avant-garde converged with the Communist International.  Chapters explore Vladimir Mayakovsky's 1925 visit to New York City via Cuba and Mexico, during which he wrote Russian-language poetry in an "Afro-Cuban" voice; Hughes' translations of these poems while in Moscow, where he assisted with a doomed Soviet film on African American life; a futurist play condemning Western imperialism in China, which became Broadway's first major production to feature a predominantly Asian American cast; and efforts to imagine the Bolshevik Revolution as Jewish messianic arrest, followed by the slow political disenchantment of the New York Intellectuals.  Through this collage of rarely discussed, cross-ethnic encounters, the book remaps global modernism along minority and Soviet-centered lines, further advancing the avant-garde project of seeing the world anew.

Recent English Courses Taught