Saturday, September 23, 2017

Interview: Dr. Angel Daniel Matos, the newest Children's Literature Professor at SDSU

NCSCL’s Graduate Assistants, Chris Deming and Andrea Kade, sat down with Professor Matos in early September to uncover the mystery behind SDSU’s newest tenure-track faculty member. We find out how the SDSU student body sets itself apart from other institutions, and why Professor Matos chose to explore Queer Theory in the Young Adult genre.  
Where He Hails From: Aguada, Puerto Rico
Places of Education: B.A. University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, M.A. University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, Ph.D. University of Notre Dame
Teaching Experience: University of Puerto Rico, University of Notre Dame, and Bowdoin College. 

Chris Deming: Professor Matos, what inspired you to pursue academia as a career? Any particular moment stand out in your memory?
Professor Matos: When I was working on my Master’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico, I found teaching controversial and politically charged topics were easier and more effective at the college level. I was drawn to that particular freedom you have in the higher education environment. Then, of course, I fell in love with the research aspects of academia too.

Andrea Kade: You transferred from a small, private New England college to a large West Coast public university. Describe the experiences you’ve had teaching in these higher educational institutions. What do you find distinctive about SDSU’s student body?
Professor Matos: At the smaller, private college teaching experience the students were incredibly smart and invested in the course material, but classes are mostly comprised of traditional students. It’s the diversity at SDSU that sets it apart from these types of colleges—we have students who come from different backgrounds, students of different ages, and students who bring in a wider array of life experiences. I find the success of teaching literature [at a public university] relies on pushing students to draw from their personal and diverse experiences to highlight different ways of approaching and reading texts. In my queer literature course, for instance, we had this amazing bonding moment in class with a nontraditional student, who spoke about how as an undergrad, she would’ve never been able to take a course on queer literature. She brings such insight to our class, and she constantly reminds us of a history that current generations sometimes forget. It’s moments like these where a literature class can provide a measure of comfort and inspiration to students’ education.   
Andrea Kade: What are your current research interests and how have they developed or changed over the course of your educational experience? Can you describe any specific moment that initiated one of these changes?
Professor Matos: (laughs) That’s a great question! I actually majored in linguistics for my undergraduate degree, but towards the end of my program I realized that I was way too playful in tone when writing my papers. I was also drawn to how literature allowed me to explore a wider set of ideas and frameworks, ranging from the philosophical, the cultural, the textual, the speculative, the weird, to the imaginary. Literature seemed more daring, and it would allow to me study topics that better aligned with my identities, my political views, and my tastes. I specialized in Victorian literature in my Master’s program but kept revisiting the Young Adult genre and realized how far the bildungsroman piqued my interest in notions such as growth, development, and social ostracism. When I got into my PhD program, I immediately switched my research interests to queer children’s and young adult lit.      
Chris Deming: If you have any overlapping fields of interest, can you tell us why the intersection of these areas is important? How do you approach this intersection with your students and/or in your research?
Professor Matos: I’m deeply invested in the intersection of young adult literature and queer studies.  The queer YA genre is one that has changed drastically over time, transforming from a genre that warned readers about the detriments of queer life into a genre that celebrates the potentiality of queerness. A lot of YA lit is about assimilation, and radical queer frameworks are all about a rejection of the norm and a political alignment against the status quo. I’m very interested in the tensions that emerge in this overlap—YA is about socializing and assimilating, queerness is about dismantling and resisting. Lately, I’ve been focusing a lot of attention on queer sci-fi and fantasy, because more interesting things are occurring in this space. Many queer theorists have claimed that queer frameworks are speculative because through them, we are trying to envision a world and a future that is quite different from the realities we are currently living. We want to imagine to future that is livable for everyone—a future where people do not regulate or control what we can or can’t do with our bodies. A future where different forms of kinship and relationality can flourish. I’m becoming more and more convinced that speculative queer YA should be front and center in queer approaches to YA, especially since this genre enables political, radical, and non-normative modes of thinking. And authors are starting to take note of this queer and political potential. For instance, a novel that I’m currently writing on, David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing, tells the story of several queer youths that are spectated by the ghosts of AIDS victims. These ghosts serve as a Greek chorus that simultaneously laments and celebrates how the queer youth culture of the present have it so good. In a way, this novel uses literature and language to craft a connection between the freedoms queer youth have today, and a history of cultural damage that continues to haunt the present. The beauty of speculative fiction is that this vehicle allows for the creation of a platform where you can explore these questions.
Chris Deming: What projects are you currently working on? Is there anything that you are particularly excited about or looking forward to starting?
Professor Matos: In addition to queer young adult literature, I’m currently researching video games and how virtual spaces in these games push us to rethink and reconfigure notions such as identity and childhood development. One of my current projects is examining The Legend of Zelda series [specifically Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask], where certain spaces allow the player to transition back and forth between childhood and adulthood. I’m researching how these video game spaces are traversed, and how this traversal requires players to dismantle the teleology that exists between childhood and adulthood. People think of childhood and adulthood as a one-way street, but speculative, digital spaces such as those we see in video games present childhood as a stage of development that can be revisited and relived, and one that is necessary to successfully complete a game’s objectives. Childhood is often presented as a stage that one must grow out of, but this game approaches it as a stage that one must not let go of. 16-year-old me would be very proud and amazed by the work that adult me is engaging with!
Andrea Kade: There are some critics in certain scholarly circles who might scoff at academically studying children/young adult literature, tell us why this particular area deserves attention.
Professor Matos: YA lit illustrates the limits of social acceptability, and the extent to which these limits can be transgressed. By assessing YA lit, we can explore how far cultural productions designed for young readers can push the bar, and articulate ideas that are generally deemed “unspeakable.” Another reason is more obvious: YA and children’s literature are some of the most popular and profitable genres. We need to deal with the fact that these books are bound to the regulations and limitations of popular culture and mass production, and how these texts play a major influence in influencing collective consciousness. It would be a disservice to scoff at children’s literature and young adult literature. These texts are what draw us into the world of literature in the first place. Our first exposure to the realm of the literary generally takes place through children’s books, nursery rhymes, comic books and picture books. As teachers and scholars of these literatures, we should highlight the complexity and richness in the ideas discussed in these texts, and the joys and surprises that we encounter when revisiting books we read as children. We have to acknowledge that people receive emotional nourishment from these works even though they are mostly produced and regulated by mass culture. At the end of the day, political value and rethinking social norms is the emotional heart of children’s Literature. There is a certain freedom to be found in children’s and young adult literature because people don’t always take these genres too seriously, so it can get away with pushing the boundaries more. At the same time, we must grapple with the problems that arise in books that we love and cherish, and not let nostalgia get in the way of analyzing these works. We have to learn to be critical about the things we love, but that doesn’t mean we love them any less; have fun with these texts, but understand their complexities and their issues.   
Chris Deming: What is a book you always circle back to, either with your students, for research or personal reasons? Are there any books you’d recommend for people interested in the fields you study, or for any other reason?
Professor Matos: Ah! This is such a difficult question. There are just too many books to recommend! I guess when it comes to YA literature, I would recommend all the works of Adam Silvera—an author I’ve been obsessed with for the past two years. His books, which are for the most part speculative, explore some of the more pressing questions and issues that haunt contemporary queer teens. Silvera is also adept at exploring matters of intersectionality, and his work highlights the ways in which queer identity is inflected by other domains of identity such as race, class, and disability. In terms of theoretical texts, I would recommend anything written by Sara Ahmed or José Esteban Muñoz—two queer and feminist theorists who have revolutionized the way I think about queerness, futurity, space, utopianism, emotion, and happiness.


For more insight into Professor Matos’ research, join us on October 4th at noon in Storm Hall 104 for the Children's Literature Criticism Panel or check out some of his publications below:

Matos, Angel (2018). “Subverting Normative Paradigms: Teaching Representations of Gender and Queerness in Young Adult Literature.” MLA Options for Teaching Young Adult Literature. Eds. Karen Coats, Mike Cadden, and Roberta Seelinger Trites.

Matos, Angel (2017). “The Undercover Life of Young Adult Novels.” The ALAN Review 44.2.

Matos, Angel (2017). “Something’s Flaming in the Kitchen: Exploring the Kitchen as a Stage of Gay Domesticity in Queer as Folk.” Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture 2.1. (119-33).

Robert Bittner with Angel Daniel Matos (2016). “Fear of the Other: Exploring the Ties between Gender, Sexuality, and Self-Censorship in the Classroom.” The ALAN Review 44.1.

Matos, Angel (2016). “Queer Consciousness/Community in David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing: ‘One the Other Never Leaving.’” Gender(ed) Identities: Critical Rereadings of Gender in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Eds. Tricia Clasen and Holly Hassel. Routledge. PP. 59-74.

Matos, Angel (2015). “‘Without a word or a sound’: Enmeshing Deaf and Gay Identity in Young Adult Literature.” Lessons in Disability: Essays on Teaching with Young Adult Literature. Ed. Jacob Stratman. McFarland & Company. PP. 221-244.

Matos, Angel (2013). “Writing through Growth, Growth through Writing: The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Narrative of Development.” The ALAN Review 40.3. (86-97).

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