The daughter of two Harvard academics, I was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My parents were specialists in European history and art history, respectively, and I spent a year in Germany when I was ten but my great loves were English fantasy and English and American science fiction. Coming back from Germany I fell in love with East Asian art, thanks to my mother taking me to the amazing East Asian collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I was entranced by Chinese landscapes and Japanese woodblock prints and soon became interested in Japanese haiku. My high school principal found me a tutor in Japanese and suggested that I go to Japan my senior year.
My year in Japan was one of the best years of my life. I ended up living alone in a tiny apartment and taking courses in Japanese language while teaching English to support myself—all this at the age of seventeen! At the end of the year in Japan I was inspired by Kipling and Conrad, two of my favorite writers, to go around the world and spent the summer exploring India, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East.
The rest of my life has been more conventional. I went to Harvard for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees and got my first job teaching at the University of Texas. Although I have taught at many other places since then, including Harvard, Penn, Princeton and the University of London, I spent 22 years in all at UT and grew to love the Austin area. Eventually, however, I became nostalgic for my “furusato” (homeland), and moved back to Boston where I currently teach at Tufts University.
My research interests started with Japanese literature and I still write about modern Japanese fiction on occasion, but about two decades ago I became interested in the (at that time) little known medium of Japanese animation. Although many of my Japan colleagues recoiled in horror at doing scholarship on popular culture, I persisted and have ultimately published two books and many articles on anime and popular culture. I am currently writing a book on the films and manga of Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s greatest living animator and arguably the greatest animator in the world today. The book is tentatively entitled The Haunted Sky: Miyazaki Hayao and the Uses of Enchantment.
But I am also interested in many other areas besides Japan as my course offerings show. I currently give courses on “The Cinema of Apocalypse” and “Fantasy in World Culture” and hope to develop a course on science fiction soon as well. I have just finished an article on the Harry Potter series and plan to work more on English fantasy in future.
In addition to my scholarly activities, I blog regularly for The Huffington Post on subjects ranging from Harvard football to climate change. I love film, skiing, rock music, Gilbert and Sullivan and Baroque music. And my daughter has recently turned me on to K-Pop! When not writing, teaching, researching, or frolicking, I can be found in my Japanese style study drinking tea and looking at my collection of 19th century woodblock prints featuring Japanese ghosts and monsters.