Brett Ashley Kaplan
Program in Comparative and World Literatures at The University of lllinois
I strive to see the world in unexpected ways—to see what is there, not what is supposed to be there—to write outside the box, and to portray experiences and fiction in counterintuitive ways. Many of us now have complex identities across a range of races, genders, abilities, and habits. I would like my voice as a writer to speak to at least some of these multi-modal identifications and to bring awareness to and celebrate differences. I hope that my novel, Rare Stuff, contributes to this work.
I direct the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, Memory Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where I serve as Professor and Director of Graduate Studies for the Program in Comparative and World Literature. I publish in Ha’aretz, Salon.com, The Conversation, Asitoughttobe, AJS Perspectives, and other venues, and I have been interviewed on NPR, the AJS Podcast, and The 21st. I am the author of Unwanted Beauty (2007), Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory (2011), and Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth (2015). Turning to fiction, I have recently completed a novel, Rare Stuff. Research for Rare Stuff was conducted at UIUC’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library as well as through many other sources. I am at work on a second novel, Vandervelde Downs. Being steeped in Holocaust art and literature has pushed me to ask hard questions about the ethics of representation, about guilt and innocence, victimization, and perpetration, about gender in the worst circumstances. I have seen how traumatic legacies—especially slavery and the Holocaust—touch each other and help illuminate the long and often impossible roads towards coming to terms with these traumatic inheritances. I hope that a more public awareness of how seemingly distinct traumatic pasts actually influence each other can help us through this international crisis where difference has, unfortunately, become the problem rather than the solution. As, culturally and demographically, the world becomes more blended, more bi- or multi-racial, more hybridized, and more diverse in terms of the spectra of race and gender fluidity, my work will hopefully offer ample space for the exploration of pressing issues. The utopic idea of convergences aims to press our thinking in more hopeful directions and celebrate spaces of coming together rather than focus on moments of tearing apart. Because I have been trained to read closely yet also write clearly I believe I can help convey the value of multiple modalities of being in ways that work towards undoing negative thinking about difference.