Black Shakespeare(ans) Database

Miles P. Grier


Scholar Profile by Lourdes Taylor


Dr. Miles P. Grier is an associate professor of English at Queens College, a division of the City University of New York. Grier earned his PhD in American Studies at New York University in 2010, where he taught three courses as an adjunct professor between 2008 and 2010. He was a visiting professor in the Women’s Studies department at Duke University in 2011 before being hired as an assistant professor at Queens in 2014. Dr. Grier is a Shakespeare scholar and African Americanist whose interests lie in multimedia cultural production, performance histories, and literary materialisms in the early modern period. Dr. Grier’s scholarship often employs a historical approach, examining race-making in Renaissance English and American texts as they respond to and inform their socio-political moments. He is currently finishing his first book project, tentatively titled Inkface: Othello and the Formation of White Interpretive Community, which extends upon the work of his 2016 essay “Staging the Cherokee Othello” among a number of previous works. As a researcher primarily reading race in the Renaissance, Dr. Grier is part of a growing network of scholars who draw attention to fundamental misconceptions about early modern western conceptions of difference. This work is underscored in Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies: A Critical Anthology, for which Dr. Grier is both an editor and contributor. Moreover, as both scholar and professor, Dr. Grier discusses the historical formulation of racializing tropes that permeate the varying mediums and materials of Renaissance literature.


“The Color of Professionalism: A Response to Dennis Britton.” Early modern Black diaspora studies: A Critical Anthology, 2018. 

Reading Black Characters: Atlantic Encounters with Othello 1604-1855— book manuscript (In Progress)

“First Daughter: Lalah Hathaway and the Sexual Politics of Soul” — article (In Progress)

 “response to Dennis Britton”…

“Staging the Cherokee Othello: An Imperial Economy of Indian Watching” in The William and Mary Quarterly, January 2016.

“Inkface: The Slave Stigma in England’s Early Imperial Imagination.” In Scripturalizing the Human: The Written as the Political, edited by Vincent L. Wimbush, 193–220. New York: Routledge, 2015.

“Honey and Haterade: For Obama’s Beyhive.” Avidly: a LA Review of Books Channel, July 16, 2015.

“Said the Hooker to the Thief: ‘Some Kind of Way Out’ of Rockism,” in The Journal of Popular Music Studies, March 2013.

“The Only Black Man at the Party: Joni Mitchell Enters the Rock Canon,” in Genders, Fall 2012.

“Having Their Cake… and Outlawing It, Too: How the War on Terror Expands Racial Profiling by Pretending to Erase It,” in Politics and Culture, February 2006.

Full Interview Transcript


Taylor Okey dokey. Did it give you the notification? Yes. Okay, perfect. Great. So okay, so I’ll get started then I’m not gonna take up too much, too much of your day today. But hi, thank you for being here. 


Grier Welcome, thank you.


Taylor My name is Lourdes, again, I use she/her pronouns. I’m wondering if you can just introduce yourself first, you know, name, pronouns if you’re comfortable, wherever you’re zooming from, and anything that feels relevant.


Grier Okay, so I’m Miles Grier. I do use he/him pronouns. But my he is very open, [laughs]


Taylor Relatable!


Grier Yes, so I am, I should say, I’m so grateful, you know, for this sort of gender revolution that we’re living through, I think that people are going to be happier people.


Taylor Oh, yes.


Grier Yes, So with that said, I’m zooming in from Queens. The epicenter of the epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic. I am recently promoted associate professor— did I say my name? Miles Greer, [laughs] recently promoted to associate professor at Queens College, which is part of the City University of New York. And I am…both the last Shakespeare scholar standing at Queens and the last African Americanist. But if our hiring goes well this year that neither of those will be the case anymore.


Taylor Big fingers crossed for that. 


Grier Yeah. Yeah.


Taylor That’s— that’s a spot to be in. 


Grier Yes.


Taylor Thank you. Awesome. And so just my first general question is just, if you could tell us, tell me, a little bit about your primary areas of research and how you came into those fields and areas of interest. And when your interest in Shakespeare first started, whether like as an academic or a researcher or before, or after anything like that.


Grier So my story is maybe a little unique. I didn’t take a Shakespeare course until my senior year at Washington University in St. Louis as an undergraduate. And I barely understood a word of the Shakespeare that I had been forced to read in high school. And I didn’t understand much of what I’d read in college, but a wonderful professor that I had named Nancy Pope taught us how to close read poetry. And once I understood formally how poetry worked, I then could read Shakespeare, but I didn’t want to necessarily. [laughs].  It was actually a surprise to me when I found out oh, now this Shakespeare stuff makes sense. So what I’d really been focusing on and it’s really sort of shaped my trajectory as a scholar. In my undergraduate career at WashU, I had been focusing on the 18th century Atlantic, on the American Renaissance, you know, the 19th century, whether it’s the old canon of Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, or the sort of emerging canon of Douglas and Jacobs and the the classic slave narrative. That was really where all my interest was. And then I had this surprising class with Joe Lowenstein as a senior, I thought I actually liked the Shakespeare stuff now that I can understand verse. And what really struck me was that I could see in Shakespeare the seeds of the kinds of racial regimes I was seeing in 18th and 19th century literature. But I immediately ran into this sort of prohibition, that I wasn’t allowed to say that. [L: Right.] Because there’s no race in the Renaissance [L: Right.] But I began thinking about it. And so when I did embark on my graduate career, which I didn’t do until after I’d taught high school for three years which was also very helpful. Because I got to teach some of the texts that I work on now and it’s totally different teaching a text at the college level, versus teaching it five days a week, line by line at the high school level, 


Taylorcan only imagine.


Grier Actually have to become conversant you know, in all the little details of the plays, so it made me a better reader. Yeah, so then when I came to grad school I sort of thought okay, time to slay this dragon of you can’t talk about race and the Renaissance. Now, of course, I had been already preceded at that time by both Kim Hall and Arthur Little and Joyce McDonald. I didn’t know about Joyce’s work yet, but, you know, they had preceded me. And so you know, their work was was sort of my Bible when I entered grad school in the early 2000s. And then the work of Ian Smith was yet to come. Yeah, but sort of, I know this sort of one of your later questions, 


Taylor Go for it.


Grier But there were sort of my first inspirations because they were kind of clearing that area that I wanted to be in, but I also knew I had something slightly different that I wanted to pursue. So, yeah. 


Taylor Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. That’s great. Obviously, that makes a lot of sense. The work that Things of Darkness did and continues to do is like, monumental so. Yeah, so that’s, that makes a lot of sense. That’s very,


Grier And I should say, while we’re giving credit, you know, a lot of people forget Anthony Barthelemy’s Black Face Maligned Race. I didn’t know about it. But it does, of course, precede Things of Darkness. And it remains also, you kind of have this —you say, Oh, I’m interested in this text, or this Lord Mayor’s pageant or this obscure play, and you kind of go, oh, Anthony Barthelemy did it. Like, I didn’t know that, you know, now, you may have another reading or another approach you want to take. But you know, whether it’s Kim, or Anthony, or even for that matter, Eldridge Jones. You know, it is sort of amazing how comprehensive those early texts were. Yeah. 


Taylor Definitely. 


Grier They bear going back to.


Taylor Yes, yes. As a recurring theme. Especially, you know, as we’re talking about Shakespeare and race, and that intersection and working there. So this is a little bit more of a specific question. but I was really interested in —and I’ve only read a very select few number of your works, but if you could talk a little bit about your interest in book history and text and like the production of text, as that relates to racial ideology, or racial practices and race-making that whole, idea. 


Grier I guess. Well, you know, I guess it kind of goes back to what I was saying about having taught these texts at the high school level. I remember being struck by the constant and consistent illiteracy of Moors and Shakespeare in particular, you know, the Prince of Morocco, right chooses the wrong casket. And it’s rigged because he— the choice he makes makes as much sense as anyone else’s, you know, he who chooses me shall have what many men desire. That’s Portia like it’s not but he gets the scroll that says you’re an idiot. You know, and the and you’re and you’re an idiot, because you chose based on exteriors. And of course, Portia has rejected him based on his exterior, which is why he says ‘mislike me not for my complexion’. Sorry. Yes.


Taylor No, I’ve just, I’ve never thought about the irony of that. And we’ve just read the Prince– and I,  you know, that whole text, I had not thought about that.


Grier Well, so then the question right becomes why do white people get to judge by exteriors, but Moors don’t? Why is it stupid for him to do it and sort of canny for Portia to do it? So seems like that stuck with me you know, obviously Caliban’s, you know, illiteracy, inability to know his own name without being taught it by Prospero and Miranda, you know, like, why are black people always being figured as linguistically inept, you know, as as bad readers so that as a close reading was just of interest to me. I didn’t have any real historical grounding for it. But then I started to realize that the plays themselves, because they’re staged repeatedly, are themselves the archive of what I’m talking about, you know, so instead of sort of going yes and white people actually said and believed that all black people were illiterate like no you know, how often do racist confess here are my racist beliefs right? No, it’s always denied, deflected right. treated as a joke and not something that that is serious but when it when I started to notice that it was really recurring in the plays  you know, we could talk about Aaron arriving you know, and the first thing he does is hand Tamara, a scroll, first he hides some money, and then he had so why is it that these moors are always being depicted with paper, reading it, kissing it? You know, there’s a John Cleveland poem, ‘a nymph to a black boy courting her’ ‘fair nymph to a black boy courting her’ where the nymph is afraid that the black boy is going to imprint her. And people will read a wanton epigram on their sheets, you know, so why is it that black people’s illiteracy, well, presumed illiteracy, and capacity to stain or imprint white people is being played with so often, you know, that’s what really sort of struck me. And so in that sense, as my friend Brandy Adams likes to say, I sort of came to book history through an indirect route. It was because I kept seeing it in these plays, that I started to become interested in the history of literacy, in ink production, in sexual metaphors around imprinting. And the sort of special place that the painted black stage Moor has in that sense, the color is transferable. But I definitely didn’t sort of start as— ‘I’m a book historian, I’m a trained bibliographer. I know what recto and verso means, I know how to put octavo’ like, I don’t, I didn’t know any of that. Some of that I still don’t know. But the plays were asking me to treat these painted black characters and their white lovers as ink and paper. And so I said, well then I have to follow that to where it goes. You know, and and I’ll just quickly say, and where it took me is, who benefits from Othello as ink, which, you know, there’s lots of evidence for that in his final speech, and Desdemona as paper, which he directly calls her. Who benefits from that, and I’m like, it sort of creates this white male jury who get to inspect other people, and tell them what they mean. Because if you’ve got ink on you, either, because you’re… this black coloring of yours is inky, or because you’ve absorbed it from your Moorish lover, then someone else is meant to read you, you’re not meant to read yourself, right? So someone else is meant to tell you what you mean, what you’re worth, whether you have any value on the sexual market anymore, you know, all of those kinds of things are to be determined; who stands to benefit? Well, in a patrilineal society where white men are concerned about the transmission of property from father to son? That’s who benefits. So that’s how I came into it.


Taylor That’s so interesting. And there’s so many different, so many different things to bring into that just as you’re talking, I’m thinking like now about Phillis Wheatley, and, like On Virtue and On Being Brought from Africa to America, these tropes are there, we can see them in so many different places, and in so many different types of work. [PG: yes] So there’s just so many different things that can be brought together, I think by understanding and looking at texts and racial ideologies this way, like in this period, [PG: absolutely] like, it makes a lot of sense. And so then, I mean, that kind of brings me one of the things I found really interesting in your work, and in “Staging the Cherokee Othello” was, like the focus on performance specifically. And so I would love to just hear you talk about just the process of creating, and of doing that research and like, producing that work just in general. But I’m also curious if there’s any other, if there’s any contemporary plays and/or works of theater, that you feel have done kind of the similar work of using, like, the practical aspects of performance, like crowd conduct and exceeding expectations and those types of things, to reinforce or subvert kind of, like, racial ideologies as they’re being circulated?


Grier Well, you know, that article was not something I intended to write. I was sure that that November performance of Othello had something to do with a shipment of Africans that had been brought within, I mean, I can’t remember now because I decided that it wasn’t the proper context. But I was sure that it must have something to do— I think it was maybe within a week or you know, within a month of that performance, and I thought, ah, new shipment of Africans arrived. So somehow this performance of Othello needs to be contextualized by talking about those captive bodies, and I did a lot of research on it. Um, and to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what made me switch and say, well, let me think about these Cherokees who are here because that is the primary occasion, you know of this. But I do remember when I discovered— I think it was in Purdue’s work that Cherokee men often painted their faces black as part of ceremony. And I thought, oh, wait a minute, what if these Cherokees see a person painted black and think, not ‘Oh, this is about Africans, right? This is about, you know, captive negros. but this is about me. You know, why am I assuming a kind of rigidness of racial identification? And the reason is, well, early American Studies is like ‘red, black and white’, you know, if you’re going to do Atlantic work, you must do indigenous, African and white. And those are always three separate categories. And I thought, well, but why? I really just had to look at it entirely differently. And I also wasn’t able, I thought, oh, well, maybe it’s a kind of black-red solidarity moment where they’re going to stand up for— and it’s like, no, it’s not that either. [laughs] So I really appreciated the opportunity…that was funded research at the John Rockefeller library in Williamsburg and I appreciate their generosity and allowing me to be there and think about that, and be in the archives, you know, and test my presumptions about what something has to be about… yeah. I’m thinking in particular, just that something can be about race without race being fixed. Right, you know, it really made me start thinking about, you know, race as maybe a set of capacities so that anyone who can’t read the play or doesn’t understand theater is in the same racial category for that moment. That there might be theatrical race, or literary race, which is different from scientific race, or philosophical race, and that I needed to be attentive to the ways in which theatre was racializing people. And I’ll just quickly say, I mean, the crossing is at that moment in Othello’s final speech, where he calls himself or compares himself to the base Indian, and it’s sort of like at that moment, it’s to the advantage of white commercial imperial interests to collapse any difference between Moor, Indian, and negro. And at other moments, it might be to their interest to say, no, they’re totally different, so I just wanted to be— I learned to be more open to both the collapse, and the disaggregation, as both racial strategies rather than one’s racial, and the other one isn’t, you know, and I think we’re often told to do that, too. And, you know, it’s nonsense. [laughs].


Taylor Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.


Grier The second part, and I’ll just do this quickly, I did get to see Fairview, I wondered if you were thinking about Fairview when you asked the question. And unfortunately, my memory of it is a little dim. But my memory of it is that these white characters, you know, it’s basically like a black sitcom. And these white characters arrive, and sort of infiltrate the black family sitcom. But they are black, the white characters are sort of playing their idea of black people. And they become so unruly, that they just disrupt the play entirely. And then the final turn of the play, is that one of the black women in the play, I think she’s the daughter of the kind of Huxtables [laughs] calls a halt to everything and says, you know, basically, ‘why can’t I speak? There was a story I wanted to tell.’ But the last maneuver is that they invite all of the white people in the audience to come on stage, and she speaks directly to the black audience members only. And so for me, you know, that was really about spectacle and who is meant to be looked at, and who— you know, it’s also auditory, it’s about who’s meant to be addressed, and the ways in which— not in this case, the seating, but I’m saying sort of the economics of New York theater have set up, you know that black people are to be looked at and white people are to be spoken to, you know, so how can we disrupt that. So it was an interesting experiment. I’m not sure if it succeeded in terms of actually changing the economy, it may have succeeded artistically, you know, but yeah, to take those kind of formal experimental things and actually shake up the economy as a whole other nut to crack. 


Taylor Right. Which, and it’s such like, it’s an interesting— I’m still thinking of staging the Cherokee Othello. But that’s an interesting, like, kind of inverse, in terms of bringing white folks up onto the stage, that’s very different from the way that the Cherokee folks who were invited to see Othello were invited, you know, to sit on the stage because they were the ones who were actually being watched. [PG: yes]. So that’s a really kind of interesting thing to think about. In terms of, obviously, two, extremely— the whole point is it’s two extremely different circumstances and points, but the way that like staging works, and the way that sitting in a theater, and all these different constructs kind of work together and can be moved around, is really interesting. So that was another part [ PG: yes, yeah.] of that article that I thought was really interesting was the way that many native and indigenous folks were using kind of like these rules and regulations as a way— taking advantage of them and, and of subverting the expectation using it to their advantage. Which, that’s kind of what reminds me of this in terms of Fairview, which I haven’t seen, but was definitely on my mind. [PG: Okay. Yeah,] Because I do know of it and have heard about it, but I had not seen it myself. 


Grier So well…I just want to thank you for that. You made me realize, there were some people who questioned whether or not the Cherokees who interrupted that play, having been commanded to do so by the so-called Cherokee empress, there were some people along the way who questioned my sense that it had been done intentionally. And I just… I begin from the premise that the subaltern you know, the person whose documents and records we don’t have, is no less intelligent for the fact that we don’t have their written documents. [L: right] So I just can not begin from the premise. As really, all but maybe one or two of my predecessors had, that Cherokees were too stupid to understand theater, like I just couldn’t do it. As the now canceled Dave Chappelle once said, my blackness forbids me, right? [laughs] Yeah, when he was still dropping jewels of wisdom. You know, it’s just like, I cannot, like why would I ever believe that interrupting a performance was an act of ignorance?


Taylor Who’s given the benefit of the doubt? And why in that kind of situation?


Grier I just can’t do it. [laughs]. 


Taylor That makes perfect sense to me. And that definitely came through for me as I was reading it, so, [PG: laughs] made lots of sense.


Grier Well can I say one more little thing? You know, it’s funny, because the archive that I’m looking through is all written by white people. So I’m not able to get out of that archive…but I am able to view it more skeptically. And I’m also able to put in things that we’ve been told to exclude, like the fact that Cherokee men painted their faces. It’s like, well, that’s not historical, or ‘that’s not, really how race was determined at that time’. [L: Right.] You know, and I’m like, well, no, that matters. Like, it is a historical practice. And so we’ve got to do something with it. It has to be figured into what we’re talking about here instead of just excluded because it’s not racial science. So yeah, performance studies, oral history, ethno history, have all helped me to navigate the world. Male authored documents that I’m usually, you know, having to deal with. Right? And just good common sense. [laughs]


Taylor You know, a little bit of both is always good! Need a pinch of both.


Grier And I’m just saying, wait a minute, why would I believe…. Yeah, these are experienced diplomats. Right? Like, how would they be that?


Taylor Oh, yeah. Yeah, very, very experienced. And there’s just–it’s making me think of, and I know, this is poetry, but Marlene NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!. And I know that that’s like a collection of poetry. But though working with the narrative that isn’t there. And working with racist remains that we have in terms of like giving an account of things that happened. And deconstructing those things, and considering narratives that aren’t present is a very, very strong, I think, way to look at and consider– and this was later on, obviously, she writes about transatlantic slavery, but to think and talk about race as it’s developed. And so that kind of brings me a little bit into my question about time and period. There were a couple of references, like specifically to no time, Fred Moten’s idea of, of no time, or outside time…


Grier Unreal time. 


Taylor Unreal time. Thank you. And so I thought that was really interesting. But then also, just like the demarcation of periods, I’m curious to hear what you think about that in terms of–a little bit more meta in terms of like, field and research, academia and all that. 


Grier Well, you know, I’m, in one very important way, a disciple of Hortense Spillers, you know, she has this famous moment, or at least famous to me, in which she says that the whole project of Black Studies is not just to add the adjective black, in front of other things, black post structuralism, black feminism, black deconstruction, but to actually go into those intellectual formations and figure out why blackness had to be excluded from their accounting procedures. So that, to me, means black studies work has to actually challenge the fundamental premises of the field.


Grier And if it doesn’t, it ain’t worth it. You know, now, that’s a high bar to have to do all the time. [laughs]


Grier Maybe why Spillers never produced a monograph, but just produced, you know, these sort of field-changing essays, [L: right] one by one, it took a lot for her to do that, you know, and do it over and over again. But I think the question to me becomes, these period containers, early modern, restoration, 18th century… you know, I think about, and I cited in that essay that you mentioned, you know, in the Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies collection, where I’m responding to Dennis Britton, when Frederick Douglass says, What to the slave is the fourth of July? Right? It’s like these period markers that mean something for Thomas Jefferson, Abigail, James Monroe, what do they mean for the slave? My one time advisor, Jennifer Morgan, who advised my dissertation, has an essay where the Journal of the Early Republic asks her to talk about black women in the early republic, and she responds, the period designation that you’re using means nothing to the women that I study. [pause] And so that really means something, right? you can’t just say, ‘Oh, yes, well, what were black women doing in the early republic?’ If you have to say the early republic only means something to the political elites who gained power at that moment. And so you can’t just have a multicultural Hamilton style, inclusive version of the founding and the early republic and just add negros, as if those kinds of substitutions and plugging people in would have meant anything to them. So to me, it’s a way of honoring the specificity of past subjects to say, as I said, scientific racism in 1752, or climate based theories of race mean nothing to these Cherokees. But that doesn’t mean that the work that I do is not historical. It only means that I always try, it’s a high bar, but I try to leave the door open that the work that I’m doing might call into question the very period and tools that I’m using to do the work. So we have to then pay attention to, well, who cares about these period designations? Who feels that jobs need to be advertised and departments need to be structured around these periods and whom do these periods serve? And to sort of just say, well, now we want a black person who works on the restoration, or a person who works on black people in the restoration, or in early modernity, or in the 17th century, it sort of suggests that those peoples have no culture, have no cosmology have no means of telling time, other than the European one, so then becomes ‘meanwhile, you know, Shakespeare and Johnson were doing their thing. And meanwhile, negros,’ [laughs] as if you can just, you know, plug them in, and I’m thinking, the last thing I’ll say about it is, I think what it does, not necessarily consciously, but what it winds up doing, is it creates this sense that black studies, to borrow Ishmael Reed’s term from Mumbo Jumbo, Jes Grew. [L: Mm hmm. Yes] it just appeared on the scene in the 1970s. And, you know, it’s fine. If you use that newfangled nonsense to talk about some things that just happened last week. You know, you can use it to talk about King Richard with Will Smith and the Beyonce single that goes with it, but you can’t use it to talk about King Richard the second as if there is no intellectual tradition, or cosmology. Or for that matter, critique, you know, and so, when you brought up Phillis Wheatley, I’m thinking, the critique that I bring to bare in Inkface, which is the book that I’m completing, it shocked the crap out of me to find out that Wheatley and Cugoano have clocked that


Grier and articulated that in the 1770/1780s, they’ve already noticed that the dye, the ink, all these metaphors, that I’m “rediscovering” you know along with others, I’m not saying that I’m doing it alone, but all those metaphors that Kim Hall and Sujata Iyengar and I are looking, at Cugoano was already like, ‘yes, you know, they’re gonna tell you about blackness being the dye, I’m gonna tell you it’s just a coat, it doesn’t mean anything.’ [laughs] It’s just a coat. But then to find that in [unclear] Rebels, that the Moors come on stage wearing buckram coats, it’s like, oh, my goodness, you know, the first black people to write in English, have already clocked this, they’ve already seen— these are the metaphors around which, you know, our culture is being structured and around which our illiteracy, and our sort of exclusion from interpretation, and kind of linguistic authority are being constructed. These are the metaphors that do it. And I’m like, And this is Hortense Spillers, again, how do those things get forgotten? Both within black studies, and then by these other fields, that even in a seemingly neutral gesture, like naming a time period, are saying who matters and who doesn’t? And who gets to tell time and who doesn’t know what time it is.


Taylor I think there’s so much to get at in terms of how research and how academia is structured, but I came into kind of an interest— a very new interest in book history through anthology. And so as you’re talking about, things that are seemingly neutral, the seemingly objective way of demarcating when periods are happening, talking about medium and talking about genre, lack of attention to those things, or even like the way a playhouse is situated, or where it is situated, text, the literal production of, you know, black ink on white paper. So, attention to these things like as medium and the way that things are conveyed, the way that we structure these conversations even is such an important part of really understanding content if we can even really parse those things out different. But, and I think that’s part of that broader project of resisting any kind of critical race thinking is distancing from this kind of specific attention. It’s just— it’s really interesting. And so, one of my questions I am very interested to hear about, is if you feel like there has been much change, and if so how, there has been change, whether it’s just in your field [PG: laughs]  specifically or in general even from the time that you were in my position as a graduate student, what kind of changes you feel like there have been, if any, in talking about race and period in all these different ways?


Grier Well, I’m laughing because both of my answers are tickling me. And one is that I think we’ve gone from lonely and embattled to established and embattled [laughs]. I literally felt, and like I said, it was my own not knowing Joyce McDonald, so that’s on me, but for all I knew, there were two people doing this, Kim and Arthur, and they were having to really take on the dragons to do it. It was so clear in their texts, how embattled they were. And they wrote valiantly. And I think successfully. To me, the way to honor their success, and this is the conversation I’ve had with Vanessa Corredera, is not to mount the argument that there was race in the Renaissance again. By which I mean, every time we start over, it’s like, we’re detained in this holding area where we have to keep arguing for the existence of this. And I don’t see Marxists…having to start at the beginning, again, you know, every time [L: that’s really crucial] and say, there was, an enclosure of the commons, and there and there was a Proletarianization, they don’t have to say that every time they mount an argument, right? So when we succumb to that. So to me, that’s, that’s one thing is there is a certain kind of freedom now that I can say, if you don’t believe me, I suspect it’s because you haven’t ready Ian Smith. I suspect it’s because you haven’t read Joyce McDonald, I suspect it’s because you haven’t read Ambereen Dadabhoy. I mean, you know, like I can, I suspect it because you haven’t read Matthew Chapman, Dennis Britton, I mean, so that’s the big difference is I can now say, go talk to them. And go do your homework. Because—and that’s not to say that I expect any skeptical scholar to necessarily agree after they’ve read those texts. But do the homework, at least read them.


Taylor There’s a corpus. 


Grier Yeah. So yes, if you disagree, at least you’ll be disagreeing from a place of being informed, rather than ‘I read Mary Floyd Wilson, and so that’s it’. And she says, there’s no race in the Renaissance. And so it’s over. It’s like, well I know that’s your favored white scholar— and she is a completely scholarly person. I mean, [L: of course] she mounts, she brings evidence to bear,I don’t, I don’t short her as a scholar. But I don’t play Dennis Britton cheap either. [laughs] So therefore, that’s what I expect from my colleagues now. If you’re going to read it, so you’re very right to say there is now a corpus. And so that also means there is a community. And you know, it has its fissures. But I think that’s as it should be. And I think that’s actually a sign of maturity. I think one of the other things that we’re seeing is that work in this field is going to move in different directions,  have different approaches, there will be your materialists who are interested in material culture, and there will be your materialists who are straight Marxists. And there will be your people who are more interested in religious practice. And there’ll be your people who don’t want to talk about white-authored texts, and they want to talk about the lived experiences of diasporic Africans, and they are literally uninterested in— you know, there’ll be your people who are straight theater heads, right. I think that that is actually proof of the vibrancy. And so what I’m looking forward to is what happens when we’re no longer held in that holding cell, right, where we have to mount the case for our existence over and over and over again. And instead we go: we’re moving on, we’re going to see what can be explored. Once you say, okay, the work has been done. So there was race in the renaissance. Now what? And I think that’s just going to be remarkable to see. And remarkable to be able…to have productive disputes with each other. [L: Yeah.] productive, respectful, informed, productive disputes that make eachother better. I’ve had it happen, I think particularly of my friends Ambereen Dadabhoy and Matthew Chapman, we do not take the same approaches, and sometimes following them on stage, following them if we’re on the same panel is like, man, that is such a powerful example of what i don’t do [laughs]. It’s like wow I am so enthralled and impressed and I’m about to do the exact opposite of that. But I think that’s great, it’s a real sign of our maturity as a field and of a lot of great things to come. That we don’t have to march in lock step and that we can create a field that is vibrant… vibrant and that allows a lot of different approaches to blossom. 


Taylor Right, right. I think that makes a lot of sense, thank you. Part of what I’m hearing and what it’s making me think of is, getting away from the idea of the romantic idea of genis and that there is one person who’s really going and changing everything and producing things that no one else could’ve ever possible thought of, embracing academic spaces and community as this wow you’re doing something that I am not super interested in, but it’s incredible. So I think that makes a lot of sense as a way to approach this field, Shakespeare studies and Renaissance just in general but to really come at academia, very much time to let go of the idea of the ardent competition. 


Grier And I think some of this is generational, you know, the job market was so bad when I came through that I can’t walk around, thinking that it’s just my towering merit that’s the reason that I have a tenure track job. And some of my friends don’t, because I know better, because I worked with them. It’s not that I’m sort of intellectually superior to any of them. I got lucky, there was a job that wanted me. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t work, [laughs] [L: right, you know] doesn’t mean that I’m undeserving.


Taylor Put the work in definitely.


Grier Since they can’t guarantee you a job on the other side: be you Lourdes. You know, now, if someone could say, ‘look, if you just do Shakespeare Jungle Fever, part two, I can get you a job’, then do it. But they can’t, no one can do that anymore [L: right]. And so since those days of the old white boy network, calling the other old white boy in the network and going,’ I got a grad student that wants a job’. And they literally— someone retired from my department and that is literally how he got his job. He wasn’t even finished with his dissertation. He got a job in my department because his advisor called a friend who worked at Queens College and that’s how he got the job. [L: Wow. Yeah.] And then he stayed in that job for 40 some years. [L: wow.] That ain’t happening no mo. [laughs]. 


Grier So, if it isn’t, then why should you or I or anyone suppress their own unique perspective, gifts, archive, methodology, affect, whatever it may be, style of delivering papers, like whatever it is that sustains you and energizes you and keeps you in the game. I want you to have that. Because that’s what’s going to sustain you and keep you around. 


Taylor Right. That’s what you got. 

Grier Yeah. 


Taylor Go with it. 


Grier Yeah, and then if you do have to walk away from academia, then at least you can say ‘the time I was here, I did my thang’. And I did it my way, I got everything out of it that I needed. It fulfilled me.


Taylor I think that is great to hear now, in this position that I’m in, that makes a lot of sense. The genuineness. Yeah. I think that, you know, that’s what you got. Keep going with it. There’s no reason not to. [PG: Yeah.] That makes a lot of sense to me. And so, I mean, this is kind of a general question, but, and you mentioned it a little bit earlier, but what projects are you, or research are you working on now? 


Grier Sure. Well, I’m finishing my Inkface book, my long delayed Inkface book. And Inkface is really a way of rethinking early modern black face as an ink and what the implications are of that comparison, that’s made in Johnson, it’s made in Cleveland it’s made in Shakespeare, and it’s made in Decker, so it’s there in these places, you know, and so what if we were to take that seriously and not just go ‘oh, well, but the real way of understanding race is looking at the humors’ like, nobody brought Galen on stage and started talking about the humors. Like that was not a medical text. It was a theatrical performance. So what happens when you take that metaphor seriously, and the theatrical props of paper and books on stage, right? And say, that’s the context, the interpretive context that’s being asked for, what does that give us? So that’s that book. 

Now, it’s interesting, because I’ve begun a second book project, I’ve sort of got to two things that connect to what we talked about today. One is just an essay that I want to do about African American intellectual history, and sort of trying to envision, as I was mentioning, Wheatley and Cugoano, as early black Shakespeare scholars. And this is just continuing what Kim Hall is doing in the 19th and early 20th century, but how far back can we take Black critique, critical race critique? Well, sorry, that was critical and critique, [laughs] critical race perspective on whiteness? How far back can we take it? Like, can we actually take it to Wheatley and Cugoano? And sort of do a speculative ‘if they read Shakespeare, here’s what they would have said.’ Because that also extends the historical reach of our field and says, no, you don’t get to treat us as Jes Grew, and we’re only good for 20th century and 21st century texts [L: right] Gotta take us at least as far back  as the last quarter of the 18th century. And I’d argue earlier, even though we don’t have the texts of too many people before Wheatley and Cugoano, Wheatley and Cugoano don’t come out of nowhere. [L: right.] You know, so we can sort of assume that there has to be some intergenerational knowledge that’s being passed on.


Taylor Something had to happen. 


Grier Yeah. Instead of, well, kind of, like you were saying, instead of ‘Wheatley was just a genius, so that’s why she figured out that you know, white people like to use the metaphor die for us’. It’s like, no, she was just paying attention. And probably her friend Oborne was paying attention and you know, it does have an intellectual community who were all working on these problems together and thinking through this predicament they’re stuck in together, you know, and most importantly, challenging white people’s interpretive authority, because that’s what Wheatley does. When she says, ‘they say our color is a diabolic dye, remember’, it’s like, no, no, you don’t read my skin, I’m gonna tell you what it means. You know, Cugoano does the same thing, you keep hitting us with Jeremiah and kind of leper changes, but let me tell you what that means. So they have figured out that the Bible is the magical talisman and that white people’s authority over the Bible is one pillar that supports their racial regime. And so we’re going to challenge them as readers. ‘No, I read the Bible better than you do. Let me tell you what that text means.’ And I’m like, whoa, y’all got it. You know, the very thing that I think is at stake, which is epistemological authority, Wheatley and Cugoano already clocked. So I want to write something that you know is a tribute to them, but that’s going to be an essay. 


 Grier But I’m also going to do a follow up to ink face that’s actually going to kind of challenge my own obsession with Othello and sort of say, well what happens if we go to an unexpected place to think about Inkface and so the chapters will be on Antony and Cleopatra because the genders are flipped, and I think that’ll be an interesting way to think about staining and tainted sexual dishonor, you know, when it’s Cleopatra staining Antony rather than the other way around. So that’s one. I’m also going to look at Merchant of Venice. But to my surprise, I’m not going to talk about Morocco and Portia, I’m actually going to talk about Antonio and Shylock, because I realized the two people who make the page, the black on white document that’s at the center of that play are actually Antonio and Shylock. So why am I— ‘oh, race mean, follow the Moor’? It’s like, no, hold on,  I’ve still got this black and white text, and it’s called a bond, so it seems to be about their union. So what can we do with racial blackness? Jewishness, sodomy, what can we do from some perspective that I haven’t used as often? 


Grier So that’s one, and then I want to do a chapter on Coriolanus where there are no black people whatsoever. You know, but still talk about the body as text. And what’s sort of interesting is even in this play where there are no black people, when Coriolanus and Aufidius first meet, one of them says to the other ‘Afric owns not a serpent that I abhor, and hate more than thy fame and envy’. And I’m like, How’s Africa getting in here? And so starting to think about that kind of throwaway line, made me sort of go, okay. It would be interesting for me to start thinking about Inkface and documents and records of racialization. And, you know, children as copies, you know, literal imprints of their fathers. And why the specter of the African serpent is necessary in Coriolanus even when there are no black people around. Yeah, so to me, that’s kind of pushing the boundaries of what I was doing in the first book, which is just all Othello day and night for a year [laughs]. So yeah, those are kind of the two new projects. And I’ll just say really, really quickly what I’d love to see one day— I’d love to see some of these early modern plays in original performance conditions, because if Anthony leans in for a kiss, and Cleopatra says ‘seek no color for your going’ and it’s a white woman painted black, and we know from Othello, and from Titus Andronicus, that the moment of kissing is the moment of transfer, and so her saying ‘seek you no color for your’ takes on a new meaning when you know, he might get the makeup smudged on–


Taylor Oh, quite literally the color transfer.


Grier Yes. 


Taylor Hm. Wow. 


Grier Then it matters, right. And I think what it winds up doing, potentially is removing the sort of sense that Shakespeare was always interested in real people. And that he had this unlimited sympathy for all his characters, like when Othello just becomes an instrument for staining Desdemona, rather than Paul Robeson standing up against world apartheid, I’m like, Robeson gets credit for that. But Shakespeare didn’t write an Othello who was challenging apartheid on the global stage. Shakespeare wrote an inkblot as far as I’m concerned. And I think if we saw some of these plays under original performance conditions, we’d see that again.


Taylor That’s so interesting.


Grier Yeah. And I think we need to, you know, in order to divest from— now, don’t get me wrong, doesn’t mean I think that the plays are not worth studying. I always think that the sort of unconscious of white supremacy is worth studying [laughs]. They won’t stay, but it’s part of their fantasy world. Right? Because their fantasy world is what they’re trying to make you live in. So figuring out how their fantasy world works is real good to know. Yeah, sorry. 


Taylor You’re fine. So no, I love it. I have so many thoughts, and it just makes so much sense. I mean, you talk a lot about imagination,  at least in the works that I’ve read, and I just hadn’t thought about— theater is like, the literal production. It’s not very often that you get the chance to really go and see what is inside someone else or even in like, a group or a cultural imagination. And theater is like one of the few places where you really get to go, and literally watch it, and like, that’s the point. So it’s making more and more sense to me that, you know, like, theater should really be like, at least, like, made to be important. As we consider these things. We don’t have to speculate [PG: yes.]  like, what people may have thought, we can really see it [PG: oh yes.] In a lot of cases,  it’s evidenced. And so that’s really interesting to me. 


Grier Yeah, what they thought or what they wished could be true. You know what I mean? Like, to me, that’s the other thing, sometimes we think we can figure out what people thought, well, you know, ‘we found the Apostles Creed and this is what Catholics believe’, like, just because it’s in the Apostles Creed don’t mean it’s what Catholics, each individual Catholic— you know. So to find out practically what worldview people were living in. I think that paying attention to their daydreams, their fantasies, their wishes, is just as important, if not more so. Because like I said, that’s what they’re trying to conscript to you and me to live in. You want to talk about something like the one drop rule,  that’s somebody’s fantasy of how the world works, and how inheritance will work, and how I can cut you out of the family and cut you out of your inheritance. And then they amass the political power to make you live in that fantasy world. So whether they say they believe it, or whether they write it down, or whether their scientists claim it to be a material fact,  has nothing to do with whether it’s a social fact that they are trying to force you to live in. And so to me, that’s also why both literature and theatre are so key,  because someone gets to explore   something that didn’t really happen yet, and it might be something that they’re afraid will happen, it might be something they want to happen, but either way, it didn’t really happen. But they get to— it’s almost like a video game, they get to play it out for a while. What would happen if? [Laughs]


Taylor Performance is so interesting.


Grier Yeah. Yeah. 


Taylor Thank you, that makes a lot of sense. It’s— so many things being brought up. So  I’m sorry that my last question is kind of silly, but I really love hearing people answer it. And so I love asking it, but what is the last book you read that you enjoyed? 


Grier So that’s a hard question to ask someone in the middle of a semester.


Taylor Yeah. 


Grier But,  I’ll give you two quick answers. And one is, Jennifer Morgan’s Reckoning With Slavery. It just…it really stunned me. And I knew it was coming, and it still stunned me. Because I feel like what she is doing… one of the major things that she’s doing is saying, we cannot talk about racial capitalism without talking about reproduction. And that then means both sexual reproduction and social reproduction. So to me what that does to your strict Marxists, is it says, these realms of life that you have said are subordinate to…labor in terms of making commodities, those areas are not as peripheral….as you might think and that, in the same way that she said, like spoking on black women explodes, this time period of the journey, or of the of the early republic, like focusing on black women, changes the tenets of the study and critique of capitalism and of racial capitalism. You know, I want to go even further and say, well, what about even non productive aspects of racial slavery; torture, beating, sort of sodomidical acts, there are all kinds of things that are done who enslaved people that are not productive economically, or even sexually reproductive. So I think her book is amazing and I also think it’s clearing the space for another thing to come as well. So it just is super exciting, and I must say, right now, I’m teaching Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. And I am, honestly, 


Taylor Just finished reading that. 


Grier Oh, did you? First read?


Taylor Yeah, shockingly, but yeah.


Grier So that book poses such a brilliant challenge. I mean one, it’s amazing that she saw all that was coming.


Taylor Scary. Yeah.


Grier Yeah, kinda scary. But also, you know, I think I was thinking today as I was looking at your questions, what she’s proposing, you know, with earthseed and this sort of new Bible that Lauren Olamina is writing, is that it’s going to take something we haven’t thought of yet to get us out of this and that, to me, is the blackest thing about the book. And the blackest thing about what we’ve been— what I was saying about Black Studies and what it’s supposed to do. It’s like, you don’t just get to go, oh, yeah, 18th century studies, except now black, like no, 18th century studies is gonna have to change.


Taylor Fundamentally. 


Grier Fundamentally, yes, that’s the key word. And that’s what people don’t really want to do. They don’t want to change fundamentally. And I get it, it’s hard. It’s not easy to give up everything, to question everything. And I can’t say that I reach that bar myself. But that’s the actual challenge. Because if any of the strategies that we used so far were going to free us they would’ve already done so. So just reinvesting in voting, diversity, or you know anything that we’ve already done was clearly insufficient. And so asking me to reinvest in that, again, to me is a delay tactic. ‘Oh, just try harder with that one’. 


Taylor Hearing Audre Lorde. [Laughs] Right now. 


Grier [Laughs] Yes you are. You know, obviously, that tactic isn’t going to work. But I will also say,since you brought up Audre Lorde and the masters tools and the masters house, Olamina is still bringing all of the accumulated wisdom of the past too, it’s just it’s a remix. She’s synthesizing it over again. [L: right.]  So to me, that’s the, you know, if I’m allowed to disagree slightly with Audre Lorde, I do think that you’re allowed to bring the master’s tools, I think you’re supposed to build something else with them— I also always questioned… and I’m being too literal, but I’m always like,


Taylor [laughs] No, I love it. 


Grier The master’s tools?….Like, if we’re the ones who built the house, then aren’t they our tools? [L:well] The master didn’t build it, the master just sat around and said, ‘hey, I think you need to hit that.’


Taylor Who’s really the tool here? [laughs]


Grier So are those actually the master’s tools? And again, I know I’m being very literal. But a hammer can drive in and nail but a hammer can also break out a window. So the tools can be used in multiple ways. So I don’t necessarily think we always have to throw out all the tools and find the blackity blackest like the untainted, no white in it anywhere. Black coffee, no sugar, no creams, strategy, right. I mean, you don’t like I don’t think we always have to try to do that—


Taylor As if there were like a true black essence.


Grier Right. Right. At least. I mean, I will say this, if there is it’s not available to me. At this point in history, I don’t have access to it. [Laughs] You know, so yeah, I gotta use what I got. [Laughs]


Taylor I love that. For–earthseed, you know, the idea of going to like the literal earth and the materiality of things [PG: right] being repurposed– I mean [PG: yes.] that makes a lot of sense to me. 


Grier There you go. And I am afraid that that’s where we’re headed. I mean, it really looks like everything she has said, from the climate to the walled cities to the commodification of basic necessities, you know, like, it all seems to be humming and I’m like, I don’t have my emergency pack. Lauren told me to have an emergency pack


Taylor She tried to tell us. 


Grier And I’m not, because I was too busy trying to finish my book and get tenure. [Laughs]


Taylor So much to be said in that book. 


Grier Wow.


Taylor Well, thank you very, very, very, very, very much. 


Grier Of course. Thank you so much.


Taylor I so appreciate this, this has been a wonderful conversation. I will go ahead and stop the recording now if that’s okay.

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