Cera Smith (they/she) is a Ph.D. candidate in African American Studies and English at Yale University, specializing in twentieth and twenty-first century U.S. Black literatures, Black Studies, and the health humanities.

Scroll down to learn more about their research, teaching, and service work.


Ph.D. in African American Studies and English, Yale University (Expected May 2023)

M.Phil. in African American Studies and English, Yale University (Dec. 2019)

M.A. in African American Studies and English, Yale University (Dec. 2018)

B.A. in English Literature and B.A. in Creative Writing (Minor: Psychology), California State University, Long Beach (May 2015)


What Use is the Biological to the Black Artist?

Cera’s dissertation, “Vivified Viscerality: Bioscience and the Black Interior in U.S. Black Literature and Sculpture,” contributes to the interdisciplinary health humanities by demonstrating how and why Black American artists engage biology when depicting racialized life. “Vivified Viscerality” does this by analyzing representations of the internal body in Black American literature and sculpture. Cera identifies the “Black interior” as a critical zone for consciousness raising in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

While dominant American literary and art historical criticism treats “interiority” as synonymous with psychology and emotion, this project recognizes the biological interior as a fundamental contributor to (political) consciousness. Cera argues that artists mobilize somatic depictions of Black life to critique anti-Black racism and expose its evolving techniques of domination. To support these claims, Cera analyzes representations of physiological conditions to track how they teach characters and audiences about their social positionalities and communicate strategies for surviving and resisting total subjugation.

Cera’s research interests include U.S. Black Literatures (African American, Afro-Latinx, and other Black diasporic), Radical Protest Literatures of the U.S., Black Studies, Critical Race Theories, Affect Theory, Gender and Sexuality, Histories of Science and Medicine, and Body Studies.


Award-Winning Instructor

Cera teaches courses on U.S. Black literatures, race and ethnicity, and the human. They draw on over ten years of teaching experience as an instructor of record, co-teacher, teaching fellow, facilitator, and tutor to guide students with diverse training through Black literary and cultural studies. Cera has taught courses like “Black Life and the Human/Body,” “Who Is an African American?,” “U.S. Afro-Latinx Literatures,” “Writing Trauma,” and “Love and Hate in the U.S. South.” For their excellence in undergraduate teaching, Cera won Yale’s Prize Teaching Fellowship twice.


Dedicated Community Builder

In addition to research and teaching, Cera has a passion for student support and administrative service. For over five years, as a Fellow for Yale’s Office for Graduate Student Development & Diversity, Cera has (among other activities) been engaged in and developed programming for the recruitment and retention of underrepresented graduate students. Separately, they co-led the Yale graduate school’s Peer Orientation Mentor program, ensuring that 33 mentors and approximately 700 incoming graduate students had crucial information about the campus and local community. Cera also served the Yale Prison Education Initiative by building out an associate degree for incarcerated students and by writing an advising proposal that helped secure a $1.5 million grant to support the degree. These experiences have provided Cera with the administrative savvy needed to support students outside of the classroom through careful program design.

Beyond the university, Cera facilitates community conversations about U.S. Black art, African American history, Black queer feminism(s), power, privilege, and liberation. They have facilitated such dialogues for the Black Infinity Collective, the Long Wharf Theatre, and the California Conference for Equality and Justice.