Wai Chee Dimock
William Lampson Professor of American Studies and of English
Wai Chee Dimock, B.A. Harvard University, Ph.D. Yale University, member of the Yale faculty since 1997: You are a distinguished wide-ranging scholar of American literature.
Your scholarship over thirty years consistently broadened our horizon. With your first book, Empire for Liberty: Melville and the Poetics of Individualism, you showed how the context of an imperial nation shaped Melville’s vision, for better and worse; in doing so, you moved questions of imperialism to the center of American literary study, opening conversations across English and American studies that continue to this day. In later work, you turned outward from the historicism you had made so vital in that study. In works such as Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time, you showed how we can read American writers in conversations that are both ancient and global. With your wide range and trenchant commentary across seven books and dozens of articles, you helped lead the way in emergent interdisciplinary fields, including environmental humanities, law and literature, and world literature. Yours has been an ever-widening scope.
Though a very model of the interdisciplinary scholar, you have distinguished yourself for service to the profession, especially the discipline of literary studies. As editor of PMLA from 2016 to 2021, you stewarded the flagship journal of the Modern Language Association with a steady hand and creative imagination that sustained it through a period beset with crises. In your wide writing, your media appearances, and your contributions to online resources, you have been a public intellectual on behalf of the humanities, and an advocate for the best version of the humanities.
As an undergraduate teacher you became famous for your lecture course “Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner,” which became one of Yale’s first online courses. You were widely known at Yale for your graduate mentoring—for the variety of sources and connections you helped people toward, for the constancy of your encouragement, and for the follow-through that helped so many students on to their careers. You constantly worked to create space for others, whether by organizing your annual conferences on “American Literature in the World” or by modeling intellectual community through your legendarily generous questions and comments at public events.
Your former students are legion, and can be found leading new generations of scholars around the world. You have been particularly noted for your mentoring of minority students and junior faculty, and your tireless work around diversity. As you retire, this faculty thanks you for your research, teaching, and for the important work of helping to bring about a more inclusive Yale.