Photo of Joeseph Arthur Keith


Associate Professor, English Department

Ph.D., Columbia University, 2006
MA., The Johns Hopkins University, 1994
tel.: 607-777-2353 
fax.: 607-777-2408 

Areas of Interest

Twentieth Century American Literature
Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies
Transnational American Studies
Postcolonial Studies
Anglophone Caribbean Literature
Narrative Theory
Critical Theory



Unbecoming Americans: Writing Race and Nation from the Shadows of Citizenship, 1945-1960 (2013, Rutgers University Press).

Unbecoming Americans recovers a tradition of radical cosmopolitan literary visions fashioned out of the limits of citizenship by black and migrant writers during the early Cold War. In this collection of Afro-Caribbean, Filipino and African-American writers - C.L.R. James, Claudia Jones, Carlos Bulosan, and Richard Wright – the book examines how they used their dispossession from the nation as a standpoint from which to interrogate the contradictions of the United States - as a nation, a republic, and an empire at the dawn of "The American Century." Out of their exclusion from citizenship – a condition I term "alienage" - they fashioned radical visions that sought to transcend nationalism and to imagine alternative global solidarities. Building on scholarship linking the forms of the novel to those of the nation, the book explores how these writers employed alternative aesthetic forms, including memoir, cultural criticism, and travel narrative, to contest prevailing notions of race, nation, and citizenship. Ultimately they produced a vital counter-discourse of freedom in opposition to the new formations of empire emerging in the years after World War II, forms that continue to shape our world today.


"At the Formal Limits: C.L.R. James, Moby Dick and the Politics of the Realist Novel." Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 11(3) (fall 2009): 333-347.

"Keeping Secrets: Richard Wright, The Cold War and the Epistemology of Un-Belonging" in Virginia Whatley Smith Ed. In Black and White: Richard Wright Writing America (invited contribution: collection forthcoming, University Press of Mississippi) 28pp.

"Richard Wright, The Outsider and the Empire of Liberal Pluralism: Race and American Expansion After WWII." The Black Scholar 39:1-2 (spring-summer 2009): 51-59.

"What Went Wrong?: Reappraising the 'Politics' of Theory." Postmodern Culture 18:1 (fall 2007): 112-118.

Current Project

"America's Archipelago: Islands and the Anomalous Geography of Empire" examines writers from the Caribbean, the Philippines and the U.S. for whom the figure of the island becomes an imaginative and geo-historical challenge to the U.S. during the course of the twentieth century. The book project focuses on specific islands (the Philippines, the Caribbean, Guantánamo Bay) as liminal spaces situated not only at the geographical but also the legal and ideological limits of the nation-states. It explores how these floating colonies – both part of and outside of the nation – confound the borders between the foreign and the domestic and reveal the anomalous workings of empire at the heart of U.S. culture. Unhinged from the nation, these "islands" bear witness on one hand to the uneven incorporation of racialized subjects into the "mainland" of American citizenship. At the same time, they also become social and textual spaces within which these authors recount un-told stories of the U.S. and imagine new communities that extend beyond the nation's perimeters, and which incorporate the colonial spaces and histories of the Caribbean, the Philippines and Africa.

Recent Courses Taught

Transnational American Studies
Race, Empire and the U.S. Novel after 1945
Cultures of the Cold War
National Identity, Immigration, Empire
Modern Theory and Criticism
Migrations, Diasporas, Borders


Dean's Research Semester, (Spring), Binghamton University, 2013
Institute for Advanced Studies of the Humanities Fellowship, Binghamton University, 2012
Dean's Research Semester, (Fall) Binghamton University, 2010
President's Fellowship, Columbia University, 1998-2003
New York Council of the Humanities/NEH Grant, 2002
University Fellowship, The Johns Hopkins University, 1993-1994

Last Updated: 7/25/14