Krista Comer

Professor of English, Rice University
BA Women’s Studies, Wellesley College 1988
MA American Studies, Brown University, 1990
PhD American Studies, Brown University, 1996
Krista Comer

Krista Comer is an Affiliated Scholar with the Bill Lane Center for the American West during her sabbatical from Rice University in Houston, Texas.  She is originally from Pueblo, Colorado, but grew up mainly in California between the Bay Area and Oxnard.  She was educated in the northeast, and has since lived on the Gulf Coast of Mexico now twenty years.

Professor Comer is a scholar of contemporary literature and cultural politics with interdisciplinary interests in feminist studies and problems of place, space, and their theorization.  The central site of her theoretical work is the US West – both as a material place and a traveling culture. Her books include Landscapes of the New West: Gender and Geography in Contemporary Women’s Writing (1999) and Surfer Girls in the New World Order (2010). Landscapes is a work of feminist critical race studies centered on the contact zones and border spaces of the US West.  It argues for the importance of postmodern form to stories of anti-colonial history-telling by contemporary women writers (ie Didion, Coleman, Kingston, Silko, Anzaldúa, Cisneros, Erdrich, Blew, and Houston).  Surfer Girls draws from an archive of theory sifted through ethnographic research with women surfers in California and Mexico to offer the concept and practice of “girl localism” – meaning a gender and environmental justice place-based consciousness and activism among groups of women and girls often assumed to be lite-headed babes in bikinis. 

For links to additional writings of Professor Comer, including from her current book in progress The Feminist States of Critical Regionalism, please see below. 

At Stanford, Professor Comer will pursue two projects.  

  • The first is research-driven, entitled “The Battle for Mavericks.”  It relates to the activist work of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing.  The Committee is a direct action political group founded in 2016 to contest the exclusion of women from the legendary big wave surf contest at “Mavericks” in Half Moon Bay near Stanford.  The Committee argued a petition related to access in front of the California Coastal Commission in November 2016.  The Commission found in favor.  The research documents this specific action and the backlash that followed.  It situates fights over territory in a larger western tale of struggles over land, disputes about belonging, and questions related to governance about who authorizes and adjudicates justice claims.  In this example, the California Coastal Commission serves the public interests as it defends civil rights law, specifically the civil rights of women.  “The Battle for Mavericks” ends up putting environmental justice on the public record in unusual and perhaps precedent setting ways.


    The second project involves The Institute for Women Surfers, a grassroots educational initiative in the public humanities that brings together an international group of women surfers, activists, artists, business owners, educators, and non-profit leaders. It conducts annual trainings to create spaces of peer teaching, learning, and mutual aid.  The Institute was co-founded in 2014, and is directed by Professor Comer in collaboration with the IWS Steering Committee. 

The Institute is grateful to conduct the 2017 training on site at Stanford University, in the Bill Lane Center collaborative all-glass classroom spaces.  The theme of the 2017 training is “Issues of Access.”  Many Institute members have participated in the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing campaign and they understand well the problems of access as they relate to Mavericks.  But the topic of access extends well beyond the fight for Mavericks. 

Making use of “issues of access” as a conceptual and practical point of departure, the 2017 Institute explores what access means, and for whom?  In what ways are issues of access also feminist issues?  The term “access” suggests government initiatives – as in policies that make surf breaks, beaches, accessible to a broad citizenry.  The term alerts us to indigenous governance claims as well.  It also suggests realms of imagination and art.  Film for instance creates new understandings of the self, as well as of space and place.  The 2017 Institute asks how activists, working in different arenas of women’s surfing – nonprofits, youth advocacy, indigenous revitalization, the arts, storytelling – address these challenges?  In non-US contexts, what access issues are priorities?

Selected essays


Afterword. “Accountabilities: Authority, Feminism, West.” Eds. Sigrid Anderson Cordell and Carrie Johnston. Studies in the Novel. Special Issue: Gender and the Cultural Preoccupations of the American West (Fall 49:3) 419-424.

“Surfeminism, Critical Regionalism, Public Scholarship.” Ed. Dexter Zavzala Hough-Snee and Alex Eastman. The Critical Surf Studies Reader. Duke University Press, 235-262.


“Thinking Otherwise Across Global Wests: Issues of Mobility and Feminist Critical Regionalism.” Ed. Aaron Nyerges and Golnar Nabizadeh. PopWest. Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities (10) 1-18.

“‘We’re Blacksurfing:’ Activist History & Liberation Politics in White Wash.” Journal of American Ethnic History (Winter 35:2) 68-78.


“The Problem of the Critical in Global Wests.” Ed. Susan Kollin. A History of Western American Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 205-221. “Place and Worlding: Feminist States of Critical Regionalism.” Eds. Ángel Chaparro Sainz and Amaia Ibarraran Bigalondo. Transcontinental Reflections on the American West: Words, Images, Sounds beyond Borders. Valencia, Spain: Portal Editions SL, 153-71.


"West." Keywords for American Cultural Studies, second edition. Ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler. New York: New York University Press. New essay for second edition.


“Assessing the Postwestern.” Ed. Krista Comer. Western American Literature: Young Scholars 48.1&2 (Spring & Summer) 3-15.


“Exceptionalisms, Other Wests, Critical Regionalism.” American Literary History 23(1): 159-173.

“New West, Urban and Suburban Spaces, Postwest.” Ed. Nicolas Witschi. Literatures of the American West. New York: Routledge, 244-60.