One of the key components of the English Department at the University of Colorado Boulder is the rigorous and highly selective PhD program in Literature. The fully-funded five-year program involves coursework, a Comprehensive Examination, undergraduate teaching, and a dissertation has trained a large number of bright and accomplished alumni. Their graduate work at CU English has prepared them to excel in an array of positions inside and outside of academia.
For a one example of our recent alumni from the PhD in Literature program, we look to Dr. Alex W. Corey. Corey is currently a full-time Lecturer on History & Literature at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dr. Corey graduated from CU Boulder in spring 2017, with a dissertation titled “Beyond the Blues: Music, Gender, and Black Modernisms.” In their research, Dr. Corey asks how the gendering of sound led into and emerged out of the racial dynamics of twentieth-century American musical culture.
When considering the ways in which CU prepared them for their current position at Harvard, Corey shared a couple important insights. They recognize that extensive teaching experience as a PhD candidate within the Department set them up “to excel as a faculty member in History & Literature.” Also, their work as the manager of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture “profoundly influenced the way [they] teach pop music now.”
They continued: “One of the most important things I took from CU’s English program was a hard-fought ability to write clear, concise arguments without relying on jargon—many thanks to [faculty members] Dr. Cheryl Higashida and Dr. Adam Bradley, in particular, for their considerable guidance on this front.”
Dr. Corey has taught a variety of undergraduate courses at History & Literature. They taught “Contemporary American Literature and Popular Music,” which explored how pop music and recent U.S. literature engage with questions of social power. With a historian, they co-teach “Social Justice Activism,” in which students study a range of overlapping areas of political activism since about 1900. Topics include anti-lynching campaigns, agricultural labor organizing, Black feminism reproductive justice activism, and indigenous demands for recognition. Each year, they also advise two seniors writing honors theses and have evaluated 4-5 senior theses each year.
When asked about their biggest accomplishment since graduating from CU Boulder’s PhD program, they named being awarded the Jan Thaddeus Award for Teaching and Service in History & Literature in 2019. “This award means so much to me in part because students nominated me and wrote confidential letters on my behalf. History & Literature is a community of excellent teachers, and it is a true honor to be recognized for teaching and mentoring in the context of such amazing colleagues.”
Currently, Corey is working on three projects. They are in the final stages of revising a former dissertation chapter to send out as an announcement of their book project. They explain: “This essay examines the drafting process of James Weldon Johnson’s 1912 The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. It shows how the late infusion of Frederic Chopin’s music into novel’s manuscript was a way of sonically aligning the narrator with excessive femininity, even as he lives as a white widower raising children on his own.” They are spearheading a project to improve accessibility and inclusion within History & Literature’s curriculum. And with colleagues, they are advocating for better treatment of teaching faculty at Harvard.
Corey looks back fondly on an array of experiences from their time at the University of Colorado Boulder: “Fond memories include all the hours I spent writing my dissertation with wonderful colleagues at The Cup (now sadly closed), Innisfree, and Sanitas; waking up at 4:30 AM to go backcountry skiing before a full day of research and writing; and finding an awesome queer and trans community in Boulder. And I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that Colorado sunshine.”