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Jeff Westover

By: Cienna Madrid   Published 10:23 pm / March 5, 2017

Photo of Jeff Westover

Jeff Westover

Associate Professor
Department of English
College of Arts and Sciences

Jeff Westover recently published the article, “Signifyin(g) Metamorphosis in Thylias Moss’s Slave Moth,” in the College Language Association Journal 59.4 (June 2016). Slave Moth is a book that he has taught in English 387 Modern and Contemporary American Literature.

Here is an abstract of the article: In Slave Moth, a narrative poem, Thylias Moss signifies upon two major slave narratives (by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs) and one lyric poem (by Emily Dickinson). Her response to these earlier writers is to honor and update their work by extending their ideas and plots, much in the way Henry Louis Gates has argued that Jelly Roll Morton pays homage to Scott Joplin in his rendition of “Maple Leaf Rag.” As important, Moss’s protagonist, Varl Perry, is a slave who ironically challenges and reverses the meanings of her slave masters in the poem. Hence Slave Moth reflects two forms of the revision Gates describes in The Signifying Monkey. On the one hand, the poem depicts its protagonist as growing in freedom and self-knowledge through her rhetorical flourishes and verbal combat with others (revision as reversal). At the same time, the poem also provides a way of reflecting upon its story in terms of the literary traditions of slave narrative and American poetry (revision as extension). Moreover, through recourse to scientific diction and metaphors, Slave Moth critiques American democracy as an incomplete yet necessary experiment.