Erin A. Smith
Education: Ph.D., Literature and Women's Studies, Duke University, 1997
Areas of Specialization:
I am a scholar of American popular literature and a historian of print culture. My larger intellectual project is to write a literary history of America that looks a little less like the Social Register and a little more like the American reading public, situating more conventionally literary works and readers in a larger cultural field of printed materials and communities of readers. My first book, Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines (Temple UP, 2000) was funded in part by a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and was nominated for an Anthony Award for the best nonfiction book published about mysteries. It considers American hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and the mostly male, working-class readers who encountered it in pulp magazines and cheap paperbacks. The project’s methodological innovation is to use a variety of unconventional sources--pulp magazine advertising, the memoirs of writers and publishers, Depression-era studies of adult reading habits, labor history--to reconstruct popular reading practices in the absence of records left by readers themselves. I demonstrate how this fiction shaped working-class male readers into consumers by selling them what they wanted to hear—stories about embattled (white) artisan-heroes who resisted encroaching commodity culture and the consuming women who came with it. I argue that these readers were active participants in the creation of a working-class variant of consumer culture, a culture most scholars see reflecting the needs of middle-class women who were consumers for their households.
I was on special faculty development assignment (SFDA) at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, NC for the academic year 2002-03 working on my second book project, What Would Jesus Read?: Scenes of Religious Reading and Writing in Twentieth-Century America, currently under contract with the University of North Carolina Press. It examines selected best-selling religious books, the literary, religious, and commercial institutions that make them available to readers, and the communities of readers they help construct in twentieth-century America. Bringing together scholarship on book history, consumer culture, and lived religion in America, it examines how religion and spirituality continue to shape what and how we read, even in this secular age. Fellowships and summer stipends from the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Louisville Institute have funded the project. Related essays have been published in American Literary History, Book History, and Canadian Review of American Studies.
Author of: Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines (Temple UP, 2000)