2023 PAMLA Election Nominee Statements

September 18, 2023

Dear PAMLA members,

The time has come for our annual PAMLA elections for new officers of our Executive Committee (to see our current PAMLA officers, go here: https://www.pamla.org/about/governance/ ; to read our PAMLA Constitution go here: https://www.pamla.org/about/constitution-bylaws/ ). If you are current with your PAMLA membership, in the next few days you will receive an emailed ballot link to vote for new officers. Your PAMLA Executive Committee is the body that makes major decisions regarding PAMLA on a day-to-day basis. They help to plan the association’s future so that we may continue to serve our members’ needs. We require your assistance in choosing the best officers possible. Happily, the Nominating Committee, led by its chair Professor Jeremiah Axelrod, has come up with an impressive slate of potential officers. Please take a moment to read through the candidates’ statements and then cast your vote. You can vote for one candidate for Second Vice President, two for Executive Committee Member-at-large, and one for Graduate Student Representative. The Second Vice President moves up automatically to First Vice President and then to President in consecutive years. The two Executive Committee Members-at-large nominees who receive the most votes will each serve three-year terms. The Graduate Student Representative who receives the most votes will serve a two-year term.

I’d like to thank and acknowledge the fine work of the Nominating Committee (Chair Jeremiah Axelrod and members Martin Kevorkian and Stanley Orr). And a great debt of gratitude goes out to our candidates for their willingness to serve our association should they be elected. We know we are all busy, so thank you, candidates, for your dedication to service and to PAMLA! Now, let the voting commence.


Happy voting,

Craig Svonkin, PAMLA Executive Director


Candidates for Second Vice President (please vote for one nominee):

Melanie Hernandez is Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department at Fresno State, where she teaches courses in American literature and cultural production. She specializes in nineteenth-century U.S. literature, with an emphasis on comparative African American and Chicanx Studies. Her ongoing research focuses on strategic racial performance, authenticity politics, social policing, and violent racial satire. Hernandez holds a doctorate in English and certificate in public scholarship from the University of Washington in Seattle, a M.A. in English from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and a B.A. in psychology from New York University.  She has held research fellowships at the American Antiquarian Society and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas, Austin, and has taught at the Washington State Reformatory and Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, CA. Dr. Hernandez remains committed to racial and educational justice, and is involved in ongoing curricular, outreach, and mentorship initiatives that serve her local communities. She is a current fellow for the Digital Ethnic Futures Consortium (DEFCon) and sits on the advisory board for the Digital Strategy Working Group at the American Antiquarian Society, where she is an inducted member. Prior to teaching, Dr. Hernandez worked in television and radio, including the Oxygen network, ABC’s The View, radio station K-EARTH 101, Saturday Night Live!, E! News Daily, The Howard Stern Show, and Eyewitness News. She prefers teaching.

Melanie Hernandez’s Candidate Statement: I delivered my first professional conference paper in 2005 at PAMLA and have remained an active member ever since.  I owe a debt of gratitude to PAMLA for nurturing my professional development, and for fostering an environment where my research and mentorship could thrive.  I served as the Graduate Student Representative for PAMLA from 2012-2014 and look forward to the opportunity to continue serving.  It is an organization where I proudly direct my own students because of its flexibility and the potential to nurture emerging ideas.

In graduate school, I recognized PAMLA as a welcoming space that encouraged its members to shape the organization to meet our needs and research interests. I began proposing special sessions to fill gaps where underrepresented voices weren’t yet being served. I began by organizing and presiding over the Comparative American Ethnic Studies panel, which I proposed each year for four consecutive years until it became a standing session. I repeated this same four-year commitment two more times. Coalitional Feminisms became a standing session in 2018 and Beyond Binaries became a standing panel earlier this year. I am proud to have created these spaces as complements to existing sessions dedicated to single identity categories, but that do not neatly align with nuanced research questions situated at various interstices or within liminal spaces. These newer session topics not only allow innovative ideas to circulate – they provide researchers with the opportunity to practice making these ideas legible to their prospective audiences, which is cruicial to the viability of research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries.

PAMLA is an ever-evolving organization dedicated to inquiry and service. It has given me the opportunity to push the boundaries of my own thinking. If elected, it is precisely this spirit  of inquiry, mentorship, and service that I would motivate my efforts.


John D. Schwetman is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he has taught since 1999. Since 2012, Dr. Schwetman has devoted considerable time and energy to the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association. After a term on the PAMLA Executive Committee from 2012 to 2014, he has served as PAMLA’s Treasurer and Advancement Officer since 2014, keeping track of the organization’s increasingly complex finances as it has grown and prospered with the addition of the German, Sedenquist, and Svonkin scholarship funds in the past ten years. He has worked hard to empower PAMLA with a solid command of its finances as the organization adapts to changes in academia and, more particularly, in how we come together at academic conferences.

Dr. Schwetman received his doctorate in English from the University of California, Irvine, and it was this connection to the West Coast that inspired him to come to his first PAMLA Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2004. PAMLA conference presentations have provided him with a valuable springboard for exploring research interests ranging from travel narrative to science fiction. He has published book chapters on Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck and articles on Chris Abani’s Graceland in PAMLA’s journal Pacific Coast Philology, Kazuo Ishiguro in Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, and Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls in The Journal of Popular Television. As literary studies evolve as a discipline, Dr. Schwetman continues to evolve with them. In response to student needs, he has recently devoted more time to research and instruction in the literary dimensions of film and television, and he has focused more on works by writers from beyond the Anglo-American mediasphere.

John Schwetman’s Candidate Statement: My long-running engagement with PAMLA as a regular panelist and member of the Executive Board has equipped me with extensive knowledge of how this organization works and how it can evolve in the coming years. If elected, I will look forward to the opportunity to work with the PAMLA Executive Board on the development of an exciting conference topic and an engaging array of guest speakers. I will explore creative possible links between the conference and the surrounding community of writers, artists, and humanities educators, among others. Furthermore, I will continue PAMLA’s important work of advancing the humanities by paying careful attention to the voices of previously underrepresented groups, by facilitating difficult conversations about cultural difference, and by making our conference as welcoming as it can be to scholars at all stages in their careers.

With its charge to advance the humanities, PAMLA sponsors a premiere literary journal, Pacific Coast Philology, it acts as a conduit between the West-Coast and Pacific regions and the larger Modern Language Association, and it convenes an annual conference bringing scholars together from all over the world. This last is the activity that occupies the most of PAMLA’s attention and generates the bulk of its income. With that in mind, I look forward to the opportunity to work closely with PAMLA’s Executive Director to maintain PAMLA’s status as an innovative and welcoming conference host. In addition, I will use this position to advocate for the humanities at a time when it is under attacks both political and financial. My own home institution sometimes seems to be losing faith in the value of what we can accomplish in the humanities classroom, and I am sure our situation is not unique. PAMLA therefore needs to keep making the case for the examination of the historical origins of our cultures, for engagement with the ethical challenges of cultural difference, and for continued scrutiny of the legacy of colonization and settlement as it expresses itself in language and literature. It is imperative that we see the value in non-Western cultural perspectives as expressed in art, music, and storytelling. This work is hard and involves asking disruptive questions, but it remains vital to a world with democratic aspirations, and PAMLA can play a vital role in bringing this work to communities in the Pacific and on the Pacific Coast.


Candidates for Member-at-Large Positions on the PAMLA Executive Committee (please vote for up to two nominees):

Sonia Barrios Tinoco is Associate Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Modern Languages and Cultures Department at Seattle University. She was born in Venezuela where she studied Literature at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, and then earned her Spanish Literature master’s Degree at Washington State University and a Hispanic Languages and Literatures Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley. Her main area of study lies in marginalized and out of the law subjects, hence she has published essays such as “Reconceptualizing the ‘American Dream’ for Undocumented Immigrants: The Yearning for a Lost Sense of Family, Identity and Belonging”; “The Construction of Identity through Violence: Joaquín Murrieta’s Corrido,” “Maria Moura, a woman outlaw,” among others. She is also deeply invested in migration studies and for more than a decade has been teaching a course entitled “Buscando visa para un sueño”: Cultural products on (Ill)legal Immigration.

Sonia Barrios Tinoco’s Candidate Statement: The first time I went to a PAMLA conference I was highly impressed with the range of topics, classic and current, and the level of enthusiasm and collegiality of all the members. I wanted to become part of the organization at a deeper level, so I committed to promote the conference and started conversations to bring it to Seattle University. We were the hosts in 2012. I was part of the organizing team that year and subsequently served a three-year term as part of the Executive Committee. I have continued to be a PAMLA member because it has provided time and a place to support my professional development since I was a doctoral candidate to the present day. I am deeply grateful for the colleagues I have met, the many thought-provoking conversations I have been a part of in various interesting sessions and in the conference’s halls and coffee rooms, and all the wonderful moments shared in cultural and social activities. I would like to once again be more involved and become a member-at-large of the Executive Committee to keep promoting interdisciplinary dialogues and to foster the growth of young professionals as well as of our fields of study. It is in spaces like the one provided by PAMLA that we can discuss, think, and work together to find solutions to the challenges the humanities are facing, and I would be honored if given the opportunity to serve anew.


Wallace Cleaves is Associate Dean and Director of the University Writing Program at UC Riverside, where he is also an Associate Professor of Teaching and Director of the California Center for Native Nations. His work, teaching, and research centers around the fields of composition, medieval literature, and Indigenous methodologies. He is a member of the Gabrieleno/Tongva Native American tribe, the Indigenous peoples of the Los Angeles area, and has served in a variety of positions on the Tribal Council, on the board of the Kuruvungna Springs Foundation, and is currently the president of the Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Conservancy. Recent works include co-authorship of the 13th edition of St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, and the essay “From Monmouth to Madoc to Māori: The Myth of Medieval Colonization and an Indigenous Alternative” in the Indigenous Futures and Medieval Pasts issue of English Language Notes.

Wallace Cleaves’ Candidates Statement: The concept that “Language is Mother,” is central in Indigenous language reclamation work, but it is also a guiding principle of my own scholarly labor. PAMLA has long supported the study and appreciation of language and literature, recognizing the centrality of discourse across a broad spectrum of fields, disciplines, and periods that is uniquely inclusive and supportive. I would be honored to support and serve on the Executive Committee and to continue and further the long tradition of comprehensive and excellent scholarship and collaboration.


Andrew Lyndon Knighton is Professor of English at California State University, Los Angeles, where he has also served as Director of the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics and as Director of the American Communities Program. He teaches literary and cultural theory as well as American literary history, with an emphasis on the pedagogical possibilities of the public humanities. His scholarship has appeared in journals including ESQ, ATQ, The Journal for the Study of Radicalism, Literature Interpretation Theory, and Theory & Event; his book Idle Threats: Men and the Limits of Productivity in Nineteenth-Century America was published by New York University Press. His current research considers the poet Thomas McGrath and his impact on mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles.

Andrew Lyndon Knighton’s Candidate Statement: Nearly a decade of involvement with PAMLA has afforded me varied opportunities for contributing to the organization and its annual conference – presenting my own work, serving as a presiding officer, and functioning as the liaison to PAMLA leadership when Cal State LA has provided conference co-sponsorship and site support (as we did in 2016 and 2022). My own thinking has benefited immeasurably from the colleagues I have met through PAMLA and the conversations that have flowered as a result. But perhaps most important to me has been fostering the involvement of graduate students, whether by including conference participation in my course designs or organizing teams of students to serve as conference volunteers. I am committed to ensuring that the conference continues to serve as a crucial venue for the development of such emergent scholars, who find in it such a welcoming and interdisciplinary atmosphere. We thereby ensure PAMLA’s ongoing vitality as an incubator for explorations of how the humanities can enrich, critique, and resist the social logics of our present age and of the futures to come.


Jessica Lewis Luck is Professor of English at California State University San Bernardino where she teaches courses in poetry and poetics, American literature, literary theory, and disability studies, and is currently serving as department chair. She has a PhD in English from Indiana University, which she received in 2006. Her book Poetics of Cognition: Thinking through Experimental Poems (University of Iowa Press, 2023) investigates the material effects of experimental poetics using new evidence emerging from cognitive science. An award-winning teacher at CSUSB, she has also published essays about pedagogy as well as disability poetry and poetics, with articles on Larry Eigner, Deaf poetry, the poetics of medical imaging, and an introduction to disability poetry in the new Bloomsbury Handbook of Contemporary American Poetry (2023).

Jessica Lewis Luck’s Candidate Statement: I have been attending the PAMLA conference since 2011, participating as a presenter and session chair. Over several years, I worked with Kimberly Drake to create a permanent standing session on Disability Studies within the conference structure. My scholarship is deeply interdisciplinary, and PAMLA has been a productive site for me for fostering dialogue across disciplinary boundaries. I have always appreciated the collegiality and creative energy of the PAMLA conference, as well as its support of the work of graduate students and emerging scholars. As a board member, I hope to continue this climate of support and build on that creative energy to meet the unique challenges and opportunities of our current moment in the humanities.


Candidates for Graduate Student Representative on the PAMLA Executive Committee (please vote for one nominee):

Alexa Barger is a 4th year PhD student in the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She specializes in contemporary French-language literatures of migration, particularly from the Francophone Caribbean and the African diaspora, and with a particular interest in the intersecting functions of class, racialization, and gender. She has been given the opportunity to present at PAMLA twice as a graduate speaker. Her last talk focused on historical consciousness and disaster in a recent Guadeloupean historical novel; her upcoming paper for PAMLA 2023 will focus on solidarities and Caribbean modes of relation in a Martinican novel related to the Second World War. Her dissertation, currently titled Blackness at Work: Relating Race, Gender, Class, and Nation, examines models of community and coalition-building in 20th and 21st century novels and films by Black Francophone artists. She is also interested in multilingualism and regional languages in France, and has studied Catalan, Occitan, and Antillean Creole.

Alexa Barger’s Candidate Statement: My first experience with PAMLA was close to my academic home, as last year’s conference took place at the Luskin Center at UCLA. As a panelist and a volunteer for the check-in process, I was immediately impressed by the camaraderie and community inherent to the conference – among the graduate student and faculty volunteers, as well as within the panels I attended on Francophone literatures. It is therefore an honor to be nominated as Graduate Student Representative for the Executive Board, where I hope to continue the organization’s tradition of support for academics in training. As the 2022-23 co-ambassador of the graduate student association connected to my department, I have organized and contributed to quarterly “works in progress” sessions, designed for graduate students and faculty members alike to explore and refine their research. I equally appreciate the level of dedication and attention required to plan an academic conference, as I have assisted with other graduate students in developing our department’s graduate student conference, scheduled for November 13th-14th, 2023. If elected to the Executive Board, I hope to develop further spaces for graduate scholars (of all backgrounds and levels of experience) to share their work. I equally hope to advocate for graduate students’ needs, in continuing PAMLA’s dedication to providing student-focused scholarships, and in developing further opportunities for graduate students to work together (as scholars, instructors, and workers), as we strive to create a more equitable and just academy.


Rachel Birke is a PhD Student in the UCLA Department of English. Her research centers around the Gothic and Critical Race Studies in the literature and popular culture of late nineteenth-century England. She is particularly interested in how engaging Gothic literary theory within the context of the period’s popular and amusement culture can reveal racial logics and mechanisms integral to the doctrine of white supremacy where they remain naturalized or obscured. In addition to research, Rachel is also invested in pedagogy and student experience. She currently serves as the English Department’s Teaching Associate Counselor. Last year Rachel served as Co-President of the English Graduate Union. She plans to defend her prospectus and advance to PhD candidacy at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year.

Rachel Birke’s Candidate Statement: Last year I had the privilege and pleasure of having one of the first conferencing experiences of my academic career at PAMLA’s 119th annual meeting, where I presented on racial narratives at Disneyland in the “Amusement Culture” session. I was amazed at the scale of the conference, with its extensive program of diverse and absolutely fascinating panels. But what I appreciated even more than the quality and range of the panels was the incredible atmosphere of camaraderie and excitement fostered by so many people in one space just excited to talk about each other’s research and passions. As a result, I proposed to the Gothic session for PAMLA 2023; I am eager to attend PAMLA’s conference again, where I’ll be presenting my paper, “White Venus: The Aesthetics of Vivisection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Anatomical Venuses of the Fin-de-Siecle.” I am thus so very honored to have been nominated to serve on PAMLA’s Executive Committee as the Graduate Student Representative. I am eager, if elected, to help represent the voices and concerns of my fellow graduate students who will have their early conferencing experiences with PAMLA just like I did. Having served as Co-President of UCLA’s English Graduate Union last year, and currently serving as the department’s Teaching Associate Counselor, I am confident that I can bring not only the lived experience but also the communication and leadership skills necessary for this important role.