Faculty Spotlight: Tracey Parker, Department of English
Tracey Parker, a lecturer in the Department of English, currently teaches courses from British literature to technical writing. Her interests in multicultural as well as contemporary British literature have allowed her to put a personal spin on traditional British literature courses.
Parker is originally from Springfield, Missouri. Springfield, located in the southwest corner of Missouri, is the former home of the celebrity Brad Pitt, which Parker explains is the town’s claim to fame. In Missouri, she completed her undergraduate studies and received a degree in journalism, and eventually went on to pursue a graduate degree in English.
Parker originally chose to pursue journalism because she believed it would be a good way to write for a living but after her graduation, she decided she no longer wanted a career in the field. She explained that although she liked to write, she did not have the assertive or aggressive personality it takes to get the story. She then worked for a paralegal, thinking she might go to law school. But, for similar reasons, she decided against it.
However, Parker has always loved to read. She said, “When I was a kid, I would check out a dozen books a week and just read all of the time.” Her love of literature began when she was around twelve years old. She said, “I was looking for a more grown-up book to read, not a young adult novel or a kiddie book. It was hard to find something that interested me, but I eventually checked out Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and that story really captivated me, it was my first real classic that I read.”
Since literature had always been a constant in her life, she chose to go to graduate school for literature. She said she thought this path would lead her to a life where she could read for a living. Although since then, she has learned there is a lot more to the profession than just reading.
She graduated from her PhD program in 2008. After sending out many job packets and applications, she received an offer from Auburn University to come and teach in the spring of 2008. She explains that teaching at Auburn has been a great experience because of all the people she has met, being at a major institution.
Currently, she teaches both British literature two and composition one. The subject of British literature has fascinated Parker since she was young. She said, “I’ve always been interested in England and British culture, I think that’s partly because my mom and I used to watch PBS and they have a lot of British shows.” When Parker was in high school, she read a series of books about the British being a colonial presence in India. This was a topic that she was unaware of until then. After reading this series she became interested in Indian culture and British culture.
Her primary research interest became British authors with South Asian backgrounds, which has expanded to African and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds as well. She said, “We have an idea of England as being stuffy white people who drink tea all the time and are very proper, but that’s just a stereotype. London is one of the largest multicultural cities in the world, and there are a lot of people from areas of the world which were formerly colonized by England.” She focuses on the dynamic of how “Englishness” has changed as a result of cultural hybridity.
This interest in contemporary literature has motivated her to include multicultural authors in her classes. In her British literature class, she includes lectures covering the English colonial presence and reading such as Mary Prince’s narrative, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, or Hanif Kureishi’s novel, The Buddha of Suburbia.
Hanif Kureishi and Zadie Smith are the authors that Parker focused on while writing her PhD dissertation. Kureishi writes about multiculturalism from the ’70s forward. His mother was white and English, and his father was from South Asia. He uses his own experiences to write about this hybrid of British culture. Smith’s father is a white English man and her mother is from Jamaica, which was a former British colony. Parker focused her research on how these contemporary writers’ experiences were different from their first-generation immigrant parents and other post-colonial issues.
In the summer of 2018, Parker received an opportunity to visit England by teaching for an Auburn-led study abroad program in London. There, she taught British literature and had the opportunity to take students to visit museums and amazing monuments, such as Stonehenge. She lived abroad with a group of students for six weeks. Parker said, “We had a spectacular time, and it was a small group [of students] so we really had the opportunity to bond. I had the time of my life.”
She went on to explain that they saw and did so many things over those six weeks it was difficult to narrow down her memories into a few favorites. But she settled on a trip to Manchester where she went on a tour of sites related to the band The Smiths. “It’s a band that I love, and I was able to see so many places I recognized. It was incredible,” she explained.
To students interested in literature or looking for recommendations on their next read, Parker encourages students to dig deeper into topics they are interested in. She said, “A lot of students like scary movies. I think going back and reading the roots of these stories is extremely interesting for students.”
And perhaps not surprisingly, Parker also recommends all the novels written by Hanif Kureishi and Zadie Smith.