Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania
Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow
Academic Year 2017-18
Jean-Christophe Cloutier is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his PhD from Columbia University where he also interned as an archivist and processed the papers of Samuel Roth, Erica Jong, and Barney Rosset. Recently, he co-edited, with Brent Hayes Edwards, Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth (Penguin Classics, 2017), and edited the original French writings of Jack Kerouac, La vie est d’hommage (Boréal, 2016). His English translations of Kerouac’s two French novellas appear in The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings (Library of America, 2016), along with his translator’s introduction. He contributed the essay on the 1948 “Harlem Is Nowhere” collaboration between Ralph Ellison and Gordon Parks for Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem (Steidl/The Gordon Parks Foundation/The Art Institute of Chicago, 2016). His work has been featured in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Atlantic, Hyperallergic, The Huffington Post, BOMB magazine, The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Le Monde, Maclean’s, Le Devoir, La Presse, Les Lettres Françaises, InRoads Journal, and several other media outlets. His articles, reviews, and translations have also appeared in Novel, Modernism/modernity, Cinema Journal, Public Books, A Time for the Humanities, and elsewhere.
“Archival Vagabonds” investigates a pivotal yet underexplored component of twentieth-century archival history, namely the programmatic rise in literary acquisitions by university and college libraries in the wake of the Second World War. In response to the institutional appreciation of literary papers, some writers—notably those from minoritarian communities—began preserving and fashioning their own files long before they ever reached the reference desk. My project unearths the archival investments of novelists not typically associated with archival practices, including Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Patricia Highsmith, and Jack Kerouac, to reveal how their curatorial gestures affect their engagements with the novel form. The title refers at once to the migratory trajectories of the authors I discuss and to the different forking paths their own files follow across several lifecycles, including, ultimately, that of posthumous publication. The concept of a record’s “lifecycle,” the term archivists use to designate the way that documents pass through different roles and phases, has become an integral part of official records administration since the 1950s. This project brings the lifecycle model to bear upon literary papers, one of the most idiosyncratic and challenging type of special collection. The mutability of what is considered valuable—and thus ‘worthy’ of being preserved for posterity—is at the heart of this research; to that end, I investigate how consideration for a document’s afterlife, its myriad, unanticipated uses over the course of an author’s career, and in posterity, informs both archival and literary practice. In addition to detailed investigative chapters that bridge archival and interpretive work on mid-century authors, “Archival Vagabonds” will further offer useful suggestions for negotiating literary archives in contemporary scholarly practice.