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What Inspires Me: The Lightbulb Moment

Keeping yourself open to inspiration from nonacademic sources — and everyday weirdness — can spark some of the best ideas.

Lauren Hero
Lauren Michele Jackson at the Low-Line in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhoodImage: Shane Collins

By Lauren Michele Jackson
Fall 2021

The languor of good work — the kind of work that approaches its topic as a curiosity — is so glorious you want to sink into it, letting it lap you like the contained ripples in a sturdy, antique bathtub. This inspires me, the good work of others with whom I can’t help but join in thrilling conversation and scholarship.

The “lightbulb moment,” I find, rarely comes in utter solitude but rather during the moments when I’ve made myself receptive to all kinds of surprising art and research and writing, including — and perhaps especially — outside of a formally academic context. I go out and go online and watch television and read, and all these things provoke ideation.

I feel fortunate to contribute to a discipline that leaves itself open to the weird and the ordinary, where nothing is too out-of-bounds to take seriously.

Lauren Michele Jackson teaches courses on Black literature and culture, affect theory and contemporary American literature. Her first book, White Negroes (2019), is a collection of critical essays on appropriation in popular culture and was long-listed for the Museum of African American History Stone Book Award. Her essay collection Back: An American Tale is forthcoming from Amistad Press. She is a contributing writer for the New Yorker, and her work can be found in the Atlantic, Feminist Media Studies and the Washington Post.

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