New and Forthcoming Books from the Ph.D. in English Program

June 22, 2023

Students and faculty share their latest academic and creative publications.

Headshots of Rachel Brownstein, Sokunthary Svay, Tanya Pollard, Matt Gold, and Madeleine Barnes against blue background
Ph.D. in English faculty and students have published a range of works in 2023.

The CUNY Graduate Center Ph.D. Program in English is home to hundreds of talented faculty, students, and alumni publishing academic and pedagogical texts, fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. In our Monthly English Books Roundup series, we will highlight these accomplishments for the Graduate Center and beyond.

For our June roundup — our last before we resume in September — we invite you to celebrate a selection of books published this spring and forthcoming in 2023!

Are you a member of the English program with a recent or forthcoming book? Let us know!

Books out now


American Born: An Immigrant’s Story, A Daughter’s Memoir by Rachel M. Brownstein (March 2023, University of Chicago Press)

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Book cover of American Born by Rachel M. Brownstein next to headshot of Rachel Brownstein

Rachel M. Brownstein is a professor emerita of English at the CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College. She is the author of Becoming a Heroine: Reading about Women in Novels; Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française; and Why Jane Austen?


What is American Born about, and what inspired this work?

My new book is about my mother, who liked to describe herself as “American born,” always proudly. She was born in New York in 1905 and died there two years before the end of the 20th century. But she was raised in Europe by her grandmother in the Jewish section of a city in Galicia, before coming back to New York alone, where at nearly 19 she found a job making hats.

She was a charmer, a performer, a storyteller, and one of my motives for writing about her was to sort out the story of her life as she told it to her children and grandchildren — and to introduce my own grandchildren to her. Another was to recall her kind of patriotism, so different from the frightening new American nationalism that would have appalled her. I was shocked when Trump’s election in 2016 made me glad my mother was dead and didn’t have to witness it, to live through it. She would have easily recognized him as exactly what he was: She had spent most of her married life in Queens.

American Born is about a woman’s life, the subject of many of the discussions and seminars I led and followed at the Graduate Center. It is about family and memory and identity and moving on and staying put, about the allegiances and differences among kinds and classes of people, and also about what my mother called qualities, that is to say, the ones she valued, fairness and justice and honesty and a sense of humor.

How does this book relate to your research at the Graduate Center?

The book relates to my teaching courses at the Graduate Center in biography, autobiography, and memoir, as well as courses in the novel, and to my lifelong interests in narrative and character, and in feminist studies. I hope that readers will enjoy it.

The Memory Dictionary by Madeleine Barnes (Ethel, April 2023)

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Book cover of The Memory Dictionary next to headshot of Madeleine Barnes

Madeleine Barnes is a Ph.D. candidate whose work focuses on survivors' responses to gender-based violence through art forms coded and denigrated and feminine, particularly embroidery and life writing; she is the author of one full-length poetry collection and four chapbooks.

What was your process for conceiving and writing this book?

This project has roots in Professor Wayne Koestenbaum’s 2020 course, Poetry After All. We read Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem and discussed Diaz’s wonderful use of the word “hibernaculum,” or “a place in which a creature seeks refuge.” Diaz writes, “Beneath the granite boulders the hibernaculum cools, empty with shed skins.” With Diaz’s poetry in mind, we were encouraged to imagine and define hibernacula for ourselves. Our conversations about redefinition, memory, and transformation provided space for experimentation; Diaz’s writing on “the pressure of molecule and memory” stayed with me. Professor Koestenbaum also provided generative prompts. One prompt was along the lines of: “Create phrases that are not necessarily helpful; for example, write about a house but don’t describe a house, don’t give us better information about it — the description can stem from a sense that you’re the only one who knows or cares about it.” These rich materials and prompts allowed me to imagine a dictionary that provides definitions of words that convey sound, memory, and associations as opposed to definitions that are instructive or explicitly clarifying. I wound up writing almost 70 pages in response, and Professor Koestenbaum encouraged me to see the project through to its end. I remain so grateful for this push; The Memory Dictionary is the most joyful project I’ve worked on.

How does this book relate to your research at the Graduate Center?

My interest in objects, memory, and fabric are related to this project; I love examining the ways that objects, especially embroideries, contain layers of individual and cultural memory. I am invested in fabric as memory and evidence of having lived and felt. Natalie Diaz’s poetry interacted with texts I was reading for research purposes, including Jane Bennet’s work on assemblages and the culture of objects, and Sara Ahmed’s writing on “happy objects.” Ahmed writes, “We are moved by things. And in being moved, we make things …What is around an object can become happy: for instance if you receive something delightful in a certain place, then the place itself is invested with happiness” (“Happy Objects”). From this perspective, it was a joy to think about a dictionary’s affective presence, and to experiment with treating a dictionary as an object that is continually coming and going, unfolding, and creating different impressions over time as opposed to a static authority on the world around us.

What do you hope readers will gain from the book?

I hope this book gives readers permission and encouragement to play, experiment, and follow meandering, joyful, poetic pathways. The Memory Dictionary was ignited by generous conversations about poetry, language, and experimentation. It was exciting to think about an experimental dictionary as a hibernaculum — a form of linguistic or poetic shelter. This project served as a reminder that we can and must play and find radical joy in times of uncertainty and grief. It can be difficult to allow ourselves to write playfully, especially when there are so many papers and projects to attend to. May this book encourage others to write toward what Ahmed terms “the messiness of the experimental” and explore dictionaries as objects that can be shaped and reshaped by our experiences, memories, and perspectives.

forthcoming books


Debates in the Digital Humanities 2023, edited by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein (July 2023, University of Minnesota Press)

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Book cover of Debates in the Digital Humanities 2023 next to headshot of Matt Gold

Matthew K. Gold is an associate professor of English and Digital Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he directs the M.A. Program in Digital Humanities and the M.S. Program in Data Analysis and Visualization, and where he serves as advisor to the provost for digital initiatives.


What was your process for conceiving and writing this book?

Debates in the Digital Humanities 2023 is part of a series from the University of Minnesota Press. My co-editor Lauren F. Klein (Ph.D. ’11, English) and I have published volumes roughly every three years to track the state of the field of digital humanities. Generally, these volumes seek to challenge the field of digital humanities to address issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, culture, and politics, and also to address the ways that digital humanities itself challenges the academy to rethink what constitutes scholarship and how the academy can better acknowledge intellectual contributions not just by faculty, but also by librarians, technologists, and academic staff. This time, our writing and editing process was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed back our schedules significantly. We're grateful to see the book in print after working on it for so long. 

How does this book relate to your research at the Graduate Center?

Much of my work at the Graduate Center focuses on institution-building — helping Graduate Center faculty, students, and staff integrate technology into their teaching, research, and service work. So, these Debates in the Digital Humanities books, which provide a snapshot view of the state of the field of digital humanities, are centrally connected to my own work. I'm now in the midst of writing a book about digital humanities methods and pedagogy — basically about how and why I think digital humanities is centrally connected to conventional forms of humanistic inquiry — so it's useful to see how my colleagues in the field are thinking through a range of issues related to that. 

What do you hope readers will gain from the book?

I hope that readers will gain an understanding of the complications and possibilities that arise when scholars integrate technology into their work. The Debates in the Digital Humanities series focuses on argumentative essays, so I would hope that readers will be challenged and provoked by the book to think about the range of perspectives represented in the volume — from Black studies to queer studies to Latinx studies to Indigenous perspectives, and much more — and to think about how the approaches of those scholars might impact their own work. Thanks to our wonderful publisher, the book will appear in print on July 4, and it will be published open access on the Manifold platform (which I co-direct) three months later. All of the volumes in the Debates series are available for free on the DDH Manifold site now for anyone to read and comment on. I encourage readers to check it out!

The Alchemist by Ben Johnson, edited by Tanya Pollard (September 2023, Bloomsbury Press)

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Book cover of The Alchemist edited by Tanya Pollard next to headshot of Tanya Pollard

Tanya Pollard is a professor of English and Early Modern Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College. She teaches and writes especially about bodies, emotions, and medicine in early modern and Greek drama, and works with actors and directors on theatrical productions.


Did you discover anything unexpected in your research for editing The Alchemist?

Yes! I was amazed to learn that early modern writers had elaborate theories about the sex lives of metals and alchemical hermaphrodites. I was especially impressed by the many surprisingly vivid (and often pornographic) illustrations of these phenomena!

How does this book relate to your research at the Graduate Center?

My research on Ben Jonson and alchemy grew especially out of my teaching on early modern theater, bodies, and science, and I'm very grateful to have had help with this edition from a series of brilliant research assistants: especially Sylvia Korman, Sandra Goldstein Lehnert, Jess Lu, and (in the final stages) Ellen Pan. At an even earlier stage, Onur Ayaz studied The Alchemist with me at Brooklyn College, and was able to weigh in on presenting the play to an undergraduate audience!

What do you hope readers will gain from this edition of the play?

The Alchemist is a wildly bizarre, funny, and brilliant play, but people often find it daunting because of the difficulty and remoteness of its language. I'm hoping that this edition can help make its pleasures more accessible to more people. I'd especially love to see it inspire more theatrical productions of the play!

Put It On Record: A Memoir-Archive by Sokunthary Svay (November 2023, Willow Books)

Cover of Put it on Record with four black and white photos of Sokunthary Svay's family next to headshot of Svay wearing a dark shirt and red lipstick.


Sokunthary Svay is a Cambodian New Yorker writing poetry, essays, and opera libretti. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English at the Graduate Center.



What was your process for conceiving and writing this book?

I knew I wanted to have some kind of documentation (memoir seemed the closest genre) of a very specific experience of NYC (mine as a Cambodian who came here as a refugee and was raised in the Bronx, with strong musical undertones). But the more I thought about linear storytelling, the more I became discouraged. I’ve never been one to do things in order, or as expected, and the only way I could stay interested was to experiment and so I decided to call describe it as a “memoir-archive.” 

How does this book relate to your research at the Graduate Center?

The concept of the “memoir-archive” was inspired by my Intro to Doctoral Studies course and working with the late Meena Alexander. What was there to the archive and what are its limitations for a diaspora like mine, which has an entry point and history only beginning since the late ’70s upon our arrival? And rather than just writing my story or writing something academic, I wanted to combine my creative, autobiographical, and scholarly parts of myself. I’m always trying to find new ways to meld my artistic practice with my research and this is the first of many attempts.

What do you hope readers will gain from the book?

Hopefully a set of narratives (nonfiction and fiction) that will be new to them, worth a laugh and some thought.