DKU Professor awarded Harvard fellowship

Selina Lai-Henderson, an associate professor of American literature and history at Duke Kunshan University, has been selected as a fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University.

Lai-Henderson will begin her work at the Center as a Hutchins Family Fellow next spring.

Started in 1975 as the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, the institute has annually appointed scholars who conduct individual research for one to two semesters in a wide variety of fields related to African and African American Studies. As part of a cohort of twenty-two fellowship recipients from around the world, Lai-Henderson looks forward to serving as a bridge between Duke Kunshan and Harvard, contributing to broader cross-cultural and transnational research exchanges.

Selina Lai-Henderson (center) talks with students on the Duke Kunshan University campus

 “I feel a great sense of momentum by bringing this honor to DKU and bolstering the university’s worldwide reputation in the humanities and interdisciplinary work,” Lai-Henderson remarked.

The author of Mark Twain in China (Stanford University Press, 2015), Lai-Henderson’s research is at the heart of transnational American Studies, locating works of American literature in twentieth-century China and in translation. Her recent article, “You Are No Darker Than I Am: The Souls of Black Folk in Maoist China,” is the 2023 winner of the prestigious 1921 Prize in American Literature. Her unique approach to investigating the profound connections between African American writers and Maoist China brings a fresh perspective to these areas of research that are often bound by national narratives.

“The recognition of my work signals a welcoming shift of attitude toward transnational U.S. studies and internationally based scholars,” she commented.

In addition to The Yale Review, MELUS, and Journal of Transnational American Studies, Lai-Henderson’s work has appeared in edited volumes on Langston Hughes and Mark Twain published by Cambridge University Press. Beyond DKU, Lai-Henderson had served as the chair and co-chair of the American Studies Association’s International Committee. She is also involved in the editorial boards of Journal of Transnational American Studies and Global Nineteenth-Century Studies. Beginning in July 2024, she will take up the role of a book review editor of American Quarterly, the flagship publication of the American Studies Association, collaborating closely with the editorial team based at the University of Notre Dame.

Lai-Henderson has a B.A. in English and comparative literature and a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Hong Kong, and an M.A. in American studies from Heidelberg University, Germany. She was also a Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University.

Her career at DKU mirrors her field’s innovation ethos, where she integrates teaching and research that help students understand alternative viewpoints through debates, performances, and role-playing exercises. She advocates for aspiring academics to follow their true callings – advice drawn from her own life’s turning point which led her back to academia from the corporate realm.

“Take a step back and listen to your heart,” she told her students. “What are some of the things that continually excite you? What is the fire that keeps burning in you? Believe in these callings and act on them.”  

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