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C. Riley Snorton is an American scholar, author, and activist whose work focuses on historical perspectives of gender and race, specifically Black transgender identities. His publications include Nobody is Supposed to Know: Black Sexuality on the Down Low (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) and Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). Snorton is currently Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. In 2014 BET listed him as one of their “18 Transgender People You Should Know”.
C. Riley Snorton is a transgender scholar and author. Snorton was born in the Bronx and raised in Wedgefield, SC, Sumter, SC and attended in high school in Atlanta, GA. He has 3 older siblings and one younger sibling. Snorton earned an A.B. in Women and Gender Studies at Columbia University (2003), an M.A. in Communication at the University of Pennsylvania (2008), and he also earned his Ph.D. in Communication and Culture, with graduate certificates in Africana Studies and Gender & Sexuality Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. He is a recipient of a predoctoral fellowship at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University (2009), a Mellon postdoctoral fellowship at Pomona College (2010) and a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (2015). He is currently Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago.
- Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. In Snorton’s second book he provides an attempt to mapping together histories of race, gender, and sexuality in the United States to examine the origins of modern black transgender identities. Although Snorton’s research draws from medical texts and journalistic narratives he makes the effort of letting the reader know that Black on Both Sides is “not a history per se so much as it is a set of political propositions, theories of history, and writerly experiments”(6). Snorton is interested in complicating and acknowledging the ways that blackness and transness do not follow a linear trajectory of time. Instead, Snorton focuses on the ways in which “blackness and transness emerge” from slavery to emancipation up until the popular use of the Internet in the 1990s. The book engages black feminist thought, queer- and trans-of-color critique, visual culture studies, and disability theory to explain “how the condensation of transness into the category of transgender is a racial narrative, as it also attends to how blackness finds articulation within transness” (8). Drawing on an “eclectic archive” compiled of medical illustrations, fugitive slave narratives, true crime books, and more, Snorton suggests that “To feel black in the diaspora, then, might be a trans experience” (8). He also addresses present-day anti-black and anti-trans violence, discussing in the preface of the book Laverne Cox, and the deaths of Tamara Dominguez and Black Lives Matter activist Blake Brockington. In 2018, Black on Both Sides won a Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction.
- Nobody is Supposed to Know: Black Sexuality on the Down Low. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
Journal articles and Book chapters
- “‘A New Hope’: The Psychic Life of Passing.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 24.3 (2009): 77-92.
- “Trapped in the Epistemological Closet: Black Sexuality and the ‘Ghettocentric Imagination.’” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, 11.2 (2009): 94-111.
- “Trans Necropolitics: A Transnational Reflection on Violence, Death, and the Trans of Color Afterlife.” Co-authored with Jin Haritaworn in the Transgender Studies Reader, 2nd Edition. Eds. Susan Stryker and Aren Aizura. (New York: Routledge, 2013): 66-76.
- “On the Question of ‘Who’s Out in Hip Hop.’” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society 16.3 -4 (2014): 283 – 302.
- “An Ambiguous Heterotopia: On the Past of Black Studies’ Futures.” The Black Scholar, 44.2 (2014): 29–36.
- “Gender Trouble on Triton.” In No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies. Ed. E. Patrick Johnson. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016): 105–123.
- Gender. Keywords in African American Studies. Eds. Erica Edward and Rodrick Ferguson.
Awards and distinctions
- 1999: Kluge Fellowship, Columbia University, New York, New York 1999-2003.
- 2006: Fontaine fellowship, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
- 2008: James D. Woods Teaching Award, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
- 2009: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellowship, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
- 2010: W.E.B. Du Bois Non-Residential Fellowship, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
- 2011: Consortium for Faculty Diversity/Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Two-year Award, Media Studies Department, Pomona College, Claremont, CA.
- 2014: Lavender Mentorship Award, LGBTQ Student Association, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- 2015: National Endowment for the Humanities/Schomburg Center Scholar-in-Residence Fellowship, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the New York Public Library, New York Public Library, New York, NY.