Professor of English
Affiliated Professor of Women's Studies
Ph.D., State University of New York, Buffalo
M.A., State University of New York, Buffalo
B.A., Dickinson College
As a practitioner of literary non-fiction, Mary Cappello is primarily interested in creating forms of disruptive beauty, figuring memory in a postmodern age, bringing incompatible knowledges into the same space, and working at the borders of literary genres. Her memoir, Night Bloom (Beacon Press) is a multi-genre work that combines oral history, folklore, the bilingual journals of her Italian immigrant grandfather (a shoemaker by trade), dream-work, letters and cultural theory. Cappello's second book, Awkward : A Detour (Bellevue Literary Press), a Los Angeles Times Bestseller, is a book-length essay on "awkwardness" that ranges across subjects and conditions as diverse as ontological discomfort and situational silence, immigration and stuttering, the life and work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Emily Dickinson and Henry James, "tact" and its etymological association with "touch," as well as the letters that her Italian grandfather wrote to her but never sent her when she was a child.
Cappello’s “ritual in transfigured time,” to borrow a phrase from filmmaker Maya Deren, Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, appeared from Alyson Books in October 2009 under the new directorship of Donald Weise. Called Back received a ForeWord Book of the Year Award and an Independent Publishers Award (IPPY). “Getting the News,” an excerpt from Called Back that appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of The Georgia Review, won a GAMMA Award for Best Feature from The Magazine Association of the Southeast. Called Back was also a Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and a Publishing Triangle Award, and was excerpted in a special issue of The Seattle Review on “Death,” edited by David Shields.
Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them will appear this January from The New Press. Part psychobiography, part cultural history, part philosophical meditation, Swallow emerges out of a collection of “foreign bodies” housed in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum: nearly 2000 swallowed or aspirated “things” that pioneering laryngologist Chevalier Jackson extracted nonsurgically from the air and foodways of people in the early 20th century and that he also saved and framed. A contribution to histories of the marvelous and the curious, Swallow will bring Jackson’s incomparable contributions to the history of medicine to light while simultaneously restoring the narratives, lives, and longings that haunt Jackson’s collection (www.swallowthebook.com).
Some of Cappello’s recent essaying addresses Gunther von Hagens’ bodyworlds exhibit (in Salmagundi); sleep, sound and the silence of silent cinema (in Michigan Quarterly Review); the psychology of tears (in Water~stone Review); and the uncanny dimensions of parapraxis and metalepsis (in Interim). Excerpts from Appearances: Scenes from a Queer Friendship appear in American Letters and Commentary, and Quarterly West. Composed in a spirit of poetic reverie, and following a tradition of queer portraiture (e.g., Stein, H.D., Plante, Als) and queer theory (especially Foucault and Sedgwick), this experiment in prose attempts to enact the forms, literary and relational, made possible by a friendship between a gay man and a lesbian. Hotel Amerika, Southwest Review, Western Humanities Review, Raritan, HLFQ, and numerous anthologies have also provided homes for Cappello’s work.
In recent years, she was honored with a Fulbright Fellowship to teach at The Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow, Russia; The Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies (with photographer Paola Ferrario) to document the lives of new immigrants to Italy; The Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination from Teachers and Writers Collaborative for her essay, "Can Creative Writing Be Taught”; and, Notable Essay of the Year citations in Best American Essays for 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
With a background in Medical Humanities, Cappello's scholarly research has focused on nineteenth century American literature and culture with an emphasis on nationalism and heteronormativity, plague discourse and the early American novel, illness and authorship, radical poetries and bodily bounds.
Earlier in her career, she was honored with The Richard Beale Davis Prize for the best essay published in Early American Literature, the D.B. Shaw Lectureship in American Studies at Dickinson College, NEH summer support, the Teacher of the Year Award at the University of Rochester, the Excellence in Teaching Award at SUNY/Buffalo, and she has been nominated on multiple occasions for the URI Teaching Excellence Award.
Cappello has published articles on visual and literary culture (Eakins and Alice Barber Stephens; Demuth and James), Alcott's Hospital Sketches, Poe, Hawthorne, Alice James, and Thomas Shepard; interviewed Italian filmmaker Roberta Torre for Quarterly Review of Film and Video; edited a Special Issue of ATQ: A Journal of Nineteenth Century American Literature and Culture, "Women In/Visibility"; written book reviews for Water~stone, Womens Review of Books, and Radical Teacher.
Recent courses offered by Cappello include: Antebellum US Lit: Literary Acoustics; Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein; Immigrant Subjectivity and Documentary Discourse; Charles Chesnutt and James Baldwin; The Contemporary Memoir in Theory and Practice; Literature and Medicine: An Ethics of Care; Literary Nonfiction: Barthes, Baldwin, and Sontag; and
Creative Writing Seminars and Workshops in Poetry; Literary Nonfiction; and, Experimental Nonfiction.