Michelle Decker

Associate Professor of English

Department: English
Office Address: Miller 201
Office Phone: (909) 607-8137
Michelle Decker

Academic History

PhD, MA, BA in Comparative Literature, Pennsylvania State University (Emphasis in postcolonial and African literary studies)

Areas of Expertise

  • Eastern African Literatures (from Egypt to South Africa, 19th and 20th centuries)
  • Poetry and Poetics
  • Postcolonial Literature and Theory
  • Indian Ocean Literatures

Selected Research and Publications

  • Current book project: African Genres: Literature, Geography, and Poetics in the Long East Coast
  • “Tatamkhulu Afrika, Queer Heroism, Triangulated Forms.” Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies 6.2 (2020): 135–150.
  • Review of Bhakti Shringarpure, Cold War Assemblages: Decolonization to Digital. Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies 21.2 (2020): 224–226.
  • “Mesochronous Marechera: African Aesthetics, Violence, and Temporality in The House of Hunger.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 51.1 (January 2020): 131-163.
  • “The ‘Autobiography’ of Tippu Tip: Genre, Geography, and the African Indian Ocean.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. 2014.
  • “Entangled Poetics: Apartheid South African Poetry between Politics and Form.” Research in African Literatures 47.4 (Winter 2016): 71–90.

Awards and Honors

  • Mellon Interdisciplinary Humanities Initiative Grantee for Community-Engaged Courses
  • The Graves Award in the Humanities for “Indian South African Poetics: Politics, Aesthetics, Form”
  • Mary W. Johnson Faculty Achievement Award for Teaching


My research and teaching focus on colonial and postcolonial (especially African) literatures of the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries. My research argues that current understandings of the African continent and its literatures hinge upon nineteenth-century configurations of geographic and literary form. My current book project, "African Genres: Literature, Geography, and Poetics in the Long East Coast," enacts a broad reassessment of academic and popular conceptions of “Africa” through analyzing written literatures from the Long East Coast. It demonstrates how geography, literary form, and interpretive practices interplay to formulate these broad conceptions. As a whole, the work demonstrates how interpretations of African geography affected its place in world history; discusses how the heuristic of genre shapes how Western readers read non-Western texts; and finally, calls for a reimagining of the limits and characteristics of an African poetics. "African Genres" enacts close-readings of the form, content, and style of texts written between 1860 and 1970, a time period that intentionally bridges multiple colonialisms (Arab, European, and internal) and postcolonialisms. In this work, Zanzibar (along with the Swahili coast and East African interior), Egypt, and South Africa are the representative locations of the Long East Coast, which is a new theoretical and geographical configuration that combines an unlikely collection of geographies—some of which are not coastal—and an atypical collection of texts from or about those spaces—most of which are not novels—and thereby posits a new theory of what “Africa,” and African literatures could mean. My larger interest in the texts produced in and around the Global South, and in questions of modernity and literary world-creation, are ones that carry over to my teaching and my commitment to helping students to bridge the gap between their home culture and the broader world. This is true in all courses I teach, including Human Rights and World Literature; Race and Gender in Postcolonial Literature; and Black Poetry. Regardless of the subject of the course, I engage students on a variety of levels to work to overcome their assumptions about geographical areas and peoples distant from their own. Through class discussion, careful reading and critique of writing assignments, and one-on-one meetings and mentoring, students learn to think, read, and write more intelligently and more beautifully. My courses thus serve as an opportunity for students to think anew about the fact of their learning; to view the joy and the difficulty of reading as an opportunity to grow; and to see learning at the college as the beginning of a life oriented toward curiosity about ideas and generosity toward others.

Courses Taught

  • Seminar in Literary Theory
  • Core II: Hunger
  • Core II: Subversive Selves (co-taught with Maryan Soliman)
  • The Postcolonial Novel
  • Politics & Aesthetics
  • Introduction to Poetry and Poetics
  • Queer Postcolonial Literature and Theory
  • Human Rights and World Literature
  • Poetry in the World (community-engaged course)