Category Archives: Harvard

The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): C. Riley Snorton

{I met Riley Snorton about three weeks into the start of my graduate school life. He got out of a cab at a party where I was chilling on the stoop and getting some air, and I knew we’d be friends: a coupla weeks later we were having coffee and chatting about everything from RuPaul’s Drag Race to the finer points of James Weldon Johnson’s contributions to Harlem Renaissance literature. I hadn’t made many new friends yet at Harvard—a pretty cold place when you first show up—but in meeting Riley I had indeed won the New Friend Sweepstakes: this W.E.B. DuBois fellow visiting from Penn became both a social running buddy and an intellectual sounding board, and to this day, I’m convinced that his presence is what got me through my first year. Riley’s been widely published in such journals as Souls, Hypathia, and International Journal of Communication, as well as chapters in books on Dave Chappelle and passing, and his essay “‘A New Hope’: The Psychic Life of Passing” will soon appear in Homophiles. Riley’s dissertation toggles back and forth between high theory and black vernacular expressions and, according to Riley, “takes the ‘down low,’ a term that typically refers to black men who have sex with men and do not identify as gay or bisexual, as a case study, by which we can ascertain the relationships among and between mass media, representation, and identity.” I’ve read or heard a coupla chapters…and it’s really some spectacular, ground-breaking work. In the spring, Riley will be starting a post-doc in the media studies department at Pomona College, and I’m honored not only to have him be the inaugural guest of The SPB Q (Grad Chapter) but honored that he sorta deconstructed it a bit in the process…}

Name: C. Riley Snorton

Hometown: Born in the Bronx, but raised in Sumter, SC and ATL

School/Year: UPenn/ 5th and final

Dissertation Title: “Trapped in the Epistemological Closet: Black Sexuality and the Popular Imagination”

Favorite book: I realize that I’m twisting the spirit of this question significantly, but I had to reformulate this question to say, “what books (fiction and non-fiction) would upset you most if someone kept them on permanent borrow?” And that would have to be The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson (fiction) and Black, White, and In Color by Hortense Spillers (non-fiction).

Favorite author: Octavia Butler

Favorite movie: When I was a child I was obsessed with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? along with a steady diet of movie musicals.  Now I am pretty much content with a black musical.

Favorite song: “Ne Me Quitte Pas” — particularly the Nina Simone cover

Academic text that most influences your work: In the Break by Fred Moten

Academic who most influences your work: my advisor and academic mentor, John L. Jackson, Jr.

Academic High: I often compare academic work to other kinds of creative production.  I sometimes feel like a painter, synthesizing theory and source materials—which often include 90s R&B—at 2am.  Writing, and consequently seeing source materials differently through that process, is definitely a high.

Life High: Staying grounded.  I feel like one is able to have a lot of highs when one’s not too far off the ground.

You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped in to you. What are they?

Aaron McGruder’s graphic novels (they’re funny to me)


The Best of Nina Simone

Chappelle Show, Season 2

Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed

Your favorite quote:

For its fierceness and relevance to work/ life: “From the point of view of the dominant mythology, it seems that sexual experience among black people (or sex between black and any other) is so boundlessly imagined that it loses meaning and becomes, quite simply, a medium in which the individual is suspended.  From this angle, the act of sex has no occasional moments of inauguration, transition, and termination; it does not belong to human and social process, embedded in time, pledged to time and notions of mortality.  It is, on the contrary, a state, of vicious, routinized entanglement, whose passions are pure, direct and untrammeled by consciousness.” –– Hortense Spillers

Guilty pleasure: Since I work in popular culture, I think it would be pretty drab to say that I have a substantial habit of watching reality tv, which, of course, I do.  My guilty pleasure, of the moment, is doing late-night work-out routines.

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