I grew up between Colorado and California, and spent much of my teen and early adult years in west coast countercultures. I experimented with the University of California, starting with Berkeley, but finally settled in to Wellesley College in 1984.
As a Women’s Studies major at Wellesley, I pursued critical alongside creative projects, working with faculty across disciplines – including history, Latin American Studies, creative writing, and English. I entered the American Studies PhD program at Brown University in 1988, during the years poststructural thought was transforming the philosophy and practice of history. American Studies at Brown in that period leaned strongly toward training its grad students in U.S. women’s history and historiography, emphasizing histories of race and culture, and hosting The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Nearby at Yale, a cohort of senior and junior scholars was building what became the New Western History. As someone with a deep feeling for concepts and issues of place, I gravitated toward the New Western History as an experiment in public scholarship — it spurred my own work in cultural and literary studies of the US West.
I was eager to return from the northeast to points relatively more south and west, and when my husband was offered a job in Chicano/a literary studies at Rice University in Houston, his home town, I accompanied him with our baby son. In 1997, I joined the Rice faculty. That same year we had a second son. We have been surrounded by a beautiful extended family in Houston for all the years since. They have attended not only soccer games but also Chicano Studies events hosted at Rice. Our sons are now Rice undergraduates.
As an interdisciplinary researcher, I work between the English Department and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. I am a founding member of the Amerícas Research Center and chair of its Local/Global Wests research cluster. Recently I became an affiliate of both the Chao Center for Asian Studies and the Environmental Studies minor program. I co-founded a Public Humanities educational project in 2014, The Institute for Women Surfers — the initiative emerged out of popular activist response to long term research I’ve done about surfers. The Institute is an ongoing project, offering training in grassroots political education for activists and publicizing the creative and activist work of its participants.
Invited lectures I’ve given over the last few years have addressed a range of topics for both scholarly and also for general public audiences. Some of the scholarly venues include: the University of Waikato in Raglan, Aotearoa (New Zealand); the University of Basque Country in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain; the University of Western Australia, Perth; the Huntington/USC Institute on California and the West, at the Huntington Library; the University of New Mexico. Presentations for the public have been in places and for audiences such as: Rally: A Public Space for Social Entrepreneurship in San Francisco; Patagonia in San Francisco on the International Day of the Girl; Texas Democrat Women; Advanced Placement (AP) training for teachers in the Rice University Center for College Readiness.
My major research service commitments have been to the Western Literature Association (WLA). I was elected President of the WLA in 2003, hosting the annual conference in Houston. I have served on WLA’s prize committees and sit on the editorial board of Western American Literature.