Anne Anlin Cheng is Professor of English and of the Center for African American Studies. She is Director for Program in American Studies and affiliated with Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Committee on Film Studies.
She is an interdisciplinary scholar who specializes in comparative race studies, aesthetic theory, literary theory, film studies, and psychoanalytic and feminist theories. She works primarily with twentieth-century American literature and visual culture with special focus on Asian American and African American literatures.
She is the author of The Melancholy of Race: Assimilation, Psychoanalysis, and Hidden Grief (Oxford University Press), a study of the notion of racial grief at the intersection of culture, history, and law. Her second book Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface, also published by Oxford University Press, tells the story of the unexpected intimacy between the invention of a modernist style and the theatricalization of black skin at the turn of the twentieth century. This study, awarded Honorable Mention by the Modernist Studies Association, situates Baker’s provocative nakedness within larger philosophic and aesthetic crisis about the ideal of the “pure surface” that crystallized at the convergence of modern art, architecture, machinery, and philosophy. Cinespect calls this book “a playful, insanely ambitious text that seeks to rethink standard assumptions about Modernism, race and Josephine Baker . . . The book performs the admirable service of making Josephine Baker, the world she inhabited, and the skin that inhabited her seem stranger and more complex than they did before.”
Recent articles includes: “Skin Fashion” in NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art; a catalogue essay for Art and Jazz Since 1920, an exhibition at Kunstmuseum Stuttgart; an interview in e-flux Journal 56th Venice Biennale; ““Sushi, Otters, Mermaids: Race at the Intersection of Food and Animal” in Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities; and “Modernism,” collected in The Routledge Companion to Asian American and Pacific Islander.
New projects include: Radiant Defilement: Ornamentalism, Aesthetic Being, a study of the role of “ornaments” in the conceptualization of modern personhood, forthcoming from Oxford University Press; and a second project on Race Studies at the intersection of Food and Animal Studies.
Cheng received her B.A. in English and Creative Writing at Princeton, her Masters in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University, and her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from University of California at Berkeley. Prior to coming back to Princeton, she taught a wide range of courses at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, on topics such as literary theory, cultural studies, race and gender studies, psychoanalytic theory, postcolonial theory, film studies, poetry and poetics.
Cheng is the founder and organizer of the public conversation series Critical Encounters whose aims are to promote dialogue between art and theory and to encourage cross-disciplinary conversations, all on the shared topic of social justice. Recent programs include a collaborative student reenactment of the Minoru Yasui Trial, with Judge Denny Chin, which highlights the roles of Asian Americans in American legal history as well as explores the enduring question of civil rights and the American Constitution; a screening of new works by internationally renown filmmaker Isaac Julien; a conversation between two of the most exciting contemporary experimental playwrights Jorge Ignacio Cortinas and Young Jean Lee.