Erin Smith

Professor - American Studies and Literature
Tags: 19th & 20th - Century American Literatures & Cultures History of the Book Gender Studies Popular Culture HUSL LIT

Professional Preparation

Ph.D. - Literature and Womens Studies
Duke University - 1997
B.S. - Social Science
Michigan State University - 1991
B.A. - English
Michigan State University - 1991

Research Areas

Research Interests
I am a scholar of American popular literature and a historian of print culture.  My larger intellectual project is to write a more representative American literary history, situating more conventionally literary works in a larger cultural field of printed materials and communities of readers. I am currently working on a book about the reception of American women’s cold-war crime fiction.

My most recent book, What Would Jesus Read?: Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America (U of North Carolina P, 2015)  examines selected best-selling religious books; the literary, religious, and commercial institutions that make them available to readers; and the communities of readers they help construct in twentieth-century America.  Bringing together scholarship on book history, consumer culture, and lived religion in America, it examines how religion continues to shape what and how we read, even in this secular age.  Fellowships and summer stipends from the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Louisville Institute funded the project.  Related work was published in journals such as American Literary History, Book History, and Canadian Review of American Studies. 

My first book, Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines (Temple UP, 2000) was funded in part by a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and was nominated for an Anthony Award for the best nonfiction book published about mysteries.  It considers American hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and the mostly male, working-class readers who encountered it in pulp magazines and cheap paperbacks.  The project’s methodological innovation is to use a variety of unconventional sources--pulp magazine advertising, the memoirs of writers and publishers, Depression-era studies of adult reading habits, labor history--to reconstruct popular reading practices in the absence of records left by readers themselves.  I demonstrate how this fiction shaped working-class male readers into consumers by selling them what they wanted to hear—stories about embattled, white artisan-heroes who resisted encroaching commodity culture and the consuming women who came with it.  I argue that these readers were active participants in the creation of a working-class variant of consumer culture, a culture most scholars see reflecting the needs of middle-class women.


  “Erin A. Smith: Popular Religious Reading, Cultural Identities, and Religious Communities.” University of North Carolina Press Authors’ Blog, 16 June 2015.  2015 - publications
  “Erin A. Smith: What Would Jesus Do?” University of North Carolina Press Authors’ Blog, 14 Apr. 2015.   2015 - publications
What Would Jesus Read?: Scenes of Religious Reading and Writing in 20th-Century America. University of North Carolina Press, 2015.  2015 - Publication
“Kiosksensationer." Brott, Kärlek, Främmande Världar: Texter Om Populärlitteratur (Crime, Love, Alien Worlds: Essays on Popular Literature). Ed. Dag Hedman and Jerry Määttä. Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2015. 203-24. Reprinted from Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction. 2015 - publications
Rev. of The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion by Hugh B. Urban. Journal of American History, 102.2 (Sept. 2015): 608-09. 2015 - publications
  “What Would Jesus Read? Americans Are Obsessed With Popular Religious Books Because They Give Us What Organized Religion Can’t.” for What It Means to Be American, a conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square. 15 July 2015. Syndicated in:

“Comfort and joy: Critics have no use for religious best-sellers, but readers find them fulfilling, says Erin Smith.” Dallas Morning News 16 Aug. 2015, 6P.  

“What Would Jesus Read?: The complicated appeal of religious best-sellers.” Houston Chronicle 9 July 2015.   2015 - publications
“’Jesus, My Homeboy’: Teaching Bruce Barton’s Jesus in Twenty-First Century Texas.” Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy 15.1 (spring/summer 2014): 145-51. 2014 - publications
“Class Privilege, Oppression, and the World in the Classroom.” Class and the College Classroom: Essays on Teaching. Ed. Robert C. Rosen. Bloomsbury, 2013. 109-16. Reprinted from Radical Teacher 68 (2003): 23-26.  2013 - publications
Rev. of Emily Dickinson and the Religious Imagination by Linda Freedman, Uncertain Chances: Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature by Maurice Lee, and Secularism in Antebellum America: With Reference to Ghosts, Protestant Subcultures, Machines, and their Metaphors; Featuring Discussion of Mass Media, Moby-Dick, Spirituality, Phrenology, Anthropology, Sing Sing State Penitentiary, and Sex with the New Motive Power by John Lardas Modern. American Literature 85.4 (Dec. 2013): 821-24.  2013 - publications
Rev. of Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers From Charlotte Temple to The Da Vinci Code, ed. by Sarah Churchwell and Thomas Ruys Smith. American Book Review 34.5 (July/Aug. 2013): 15+. 2013 - publications


University of Texas at Dallas [2016–Present]
Associate Professor
University of Texas at Dallas [2003–2016]
Assistant Professor
University of Texas at Dallas [1997–2003]
Staff Assistant
Women's Studies, Duke University [1996–1997]
Simone de Beauvoir Named Instructor in Literature
Duke University [1996–1997]
Center for Teaching and Learning, Duke University [1995–1996]
Adult Literacy Tutor
Duke University [1995–1996]
Teaching Assistant
Women's Studies, Duke University [1994–1995]
Veteran Assistant
University Writing Program, Duke University [1994–1995]
English and University Writing Program, Duke University [1994–1995]


School of Interdisciplinary Studies Teaching Award - UT-Dallas [2020]
Nominee, Inclusive Excellence and Intercultural Teaching Award - UT-Dallas [2011]
Best Paper Prize, Religion and American Culture Caucus - American Studies Association [2004]
Anthony Award Finalist (best critical or scholarly work about mysteries) - Bouchercon [2001]
Teacher of the Year, School of General Studies - UT-Dallas [1999]


“Who Didn’t Do It? Genre, Politics, and Reader Responses to Killers of the Flower Moon.” Reception Studies Society Biannual Conference, Provo, UT, 28 Sept. 2019.
“Dangerously Good Women: Female Criminals and the Threat of Male Violence in American Women’s Cold-War Crime Fiction.” Girls! Girls! Girls!: Defining and Deconstructing Domestic Noir. University College, Dublin, 23 Aug. 2019.
“Gender, Nation, and the Literary Field of Post-War American Crime Fiction: The Case of Sisters in Crime.” Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing Annual Meeting. Amherst, MA, 18 July 2019.
“Dorothy Hughes’s The Blackbirder (1943): Thematizing Gender, Crime, and the State.” American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting. Washington, D.C., 8 Mar. 2019.
“Gender, Information, and the State.” Novel Theory: Conference of the Society for Novel Studies. Ithaca, NY, 1 June 2018.

Additional Information


 |  American Studies Association (ASA)
 |  Modern Language Association (MLA)
 |  Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP)

Teaching Interests
 American Literature and Culture
 History of the Book, Reading, and Issues in Print Culture
 Gender Studies and Feminist Theory
 Literary and Cultural Theory
 Popular Culture

Educational Equity Programming / Experience
 Discussion Facilitator. "Respect," GLSEN Greenhill School Teacher Training. Dallas, TX, 22 Aug. 2003.

 Discussion Group Leader. "What Difference Does Difference Make?"  Duke University 1997 Symposium on Diversity. Durham, NC, 28 Feb. - 1 Mar. 1997.

 Discussion Facilitator. "Changing the Scene: Teaching and Learning in Multicultural Classrooms," Duke University.  Durham, NC, 28-29 Mar. 1996.

 Graduate Assistant. "Lessons from the Majority:  Women's Studies for Higher Education," Appalachian State University.  Boone, NC, 6-7 Oct. 1994. 

 Working Group. "Gender, Body, Self," Duke University. Durham, NC, summer 1993. 


Sisters in Crime Research Fellowship
$500 - Sisters in Crime [2017/07–2017/12]
$25,000 - National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, NC [2002/09–2003/05]
Louisville Institute Summer Stipend
$8,000 - Louisville Institute [2002/07–2002/08]
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend
$5,000 - National Endowment for the Humanities [2002/05–2002/06]
Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities
- Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities [1991/09–1996/05]