Sarah Rivett is Professor of English and American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England (2011), Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation (2017), and Raven’s Land: Placing the Indigenous Northwest Pacific in American Literature (in progress). Professor Rivett’s research traces continuities between religious phenomena and secular history. Her work shows how religion functions as a distinctive feature of American literature’s temporal and geographic parameters, shaping settler and Indigenous identities that are at once distinct yet embedded within a larger field of transnational, religious, and cultural forms. Through research and teaching, Rivett strives to recover voices, lands, and stories of the past that have been erased or obscured by settler colonialism. She seeks to understand how settler, African American, and Indigenous histories intersected as a reparative method to address the violence of the past and present.
As an Old Dominion Research Professor, she will work on her most recent book project, Raven’s Land: Placing the Indigenous Northwest Pacific in American Literature, about the literary symbol of the raven in the Judeo-Christian tradition and Tlingit and Haida literatures of the Northwest Pacific. Before the Raven takes on a critical impasse: Americanists are stuck in a mode of critique that defines itself against exceptionalism and stories of national coherence. Consequently, exceptionalism has been rejected but neither dismantled nor replaced. The origins stories, on which the U.S. settler state depends, persist, and along with them the erasure of Black and Indigenous voices in dominant paradigms of the American experience. Before the Raven uses the in media res structure of the Tlingit and Haida raven stories and their accompanying cosmologies to propose a new metanarrative that eschews the very concept of origins in favor of a fluctuating, constantly shifting notion of American beginnings.