Colin Dayan is Professor of English, Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities, and Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University. She works in prison law; the legal and religious history of the Americas; nineteenth-century American, French and English literary history; Caribbean Literature and African American Studies. The recipient of numerous awards including Danforth, NEH and Guggenheim fellowships she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012.
In With Dogs at the Edge of Life (Columbia University Press in 2015), she challenges us to try to think the world from the perspective of the dog. Dogs, it suggests, might "be the form that thought must take if it is to make a difference to our lives." With Dogs at the Edge of Life takes this proposition head on, prompting us to reconsider the ethical life: the conscience it demands, the liabilities it incurs.
She is also author of The Law is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (Princeton UP, 2011), a Choice Outstanding Academic book; The Story of Cruel and Unusual (MIT/Boston Review Press, 2007); Haiti, History, and the Gods (University of California Press, 1995, 1998), a Centennial Book; Fables of Mind: An Inquiry into Poe's Fiction (Oxford University Press New York, 1987); A Rainbow for the Christian West (University of Massachusetts Press, 1977).
Dayan is currently working on two book projects. The first, Between the Devil and the Deep Sea, is a memoir but also a history of 1930s Haiti and 1960s Atlanta that intertwines the stories of her mother's life with her own. The second, Melville's Creatures, analyzes Melville's late fiction as a place of radical inhabitation that redefines the nature of human and non-human, sacred and profane, matter and spirit.
Over the past ten years, she has written widely on prison rights, the legalities of torture, canine profiling, animal law, and the racial contours of US practices of punishment for The Boston Review, The New York Times, The London Review of Books, and Al Jazeera America, where she is a contributing editor.