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Steven Lee

Assistant Professor
415 Wheeler
Office Hours, Spring 2014: Th 5-6, F 9:30-11:30
stevenlee@berkeley.edu


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 be sent to 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. 



Specialties

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 (Under Contract, Columbia University Press) is the first sustained effort to study the encounters between the Soviet avant-garde and American minority cultures.  Drawing from extensive Russian archival sources, I seek to capture the spirit of what Jamaican American poet Claude McKay called the “magic pilgrimage” to the Soviet Union—to a new society that claimed to eliminate racial discrimination and witnessed an explosion of artistic innovation.  In the 1920s and early 30s, the many diverse artists and writers 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, my goal is to connect and enhance their similar efforts to level hierarchies and to bring art into life.  I do 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.  One chapter discusses Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1925 visit to New York via Cuba and Mexico, during which he wrote Russian-language poetry in an “Afro-Cuban” voice; I then focus on Hughes’ liberal translations of these poems in Moscow, 1933, as well as his travelogue comparing the Soviet “East” to the U.S. South.  Another chapter discusses a Soviet futurist play condemning Western imperialism in China; it debuted in Moscow, 1926, and four years later became the first major Broadway production to feature a predominantly Asian American cast.  I also trace efforts to imagine the Bolshevik Revolution as Jewish messianic arrest, and how Soviet dreams gave way to nightmares for the group now known as the New York Intellectuals.  Through this collage of rarely discussed, cross-ethnic encounters, the book provides a minority and Soviet-centered remapping of global modernism, one that advances the avant-gardeist project of seeing the world anew.



Recent English Courses Taught