Carnegie Mellon University

Richard Purcell

Richard Purcell

Associate Professor of English, Director of Arts Greenhouse

Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University, Baker Hall 259, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890

Area of Study

Literary and Cultural Studies


I research, teach and write about film and media, black literature, poetry, music and other forms of black performance and visual art. Secondary areas of interest are in aesthetic theory, Black studies as well as Marxist and post-Marxist thought. I also direct an arts education program for 6-8 graders called Arts Greenhouse.

My first book Race, Ralph Ellison and American Cold War Intellectual Culture, explored how race, and particularly the debate over "the Negro Problem" in American literature, functioned generatively for US State anticommunist ideology and global hegemony yet also allowed for counter hegemonic democratic ideas to emerge from black writers during the cultural Cold War. I’ve also co-edited and contributed to books about Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Fatherone about the intersections of music, technology and culture.

I am currently pursing two interconnected book projects. The first investigates the intertwined histories of independent/experimental cinema and graffiti writing culture in New York City in order to talk about public art and the legacies of radical politics, the cultural and political economies of “watching”, the rise of corporate telecommunications networks and the surveillance state during the Long Seventies. The other book looks at how the social and economic discourses of neoliberalism and finance capital influence the way black musicians, novelists and performances artists think about the ontological status of the “work” of art as well as their own status as art workers from the late-1980s into the Great Recession. Lastly, and on the backburner, is a book collaboration with Richard Randall (CMU, School of Music), that explores the discourse of auditory suggestion – the idea that sound and music can put humans into a suggestive state – from the advent of Muzak to the PMRC.