Sunday, June 30, 2013

Thank you SILCS at Wheaton College!

Hi everyone,

Last Thursday, I had the honor and pleasure of speaking to a group of students participating in Wheaton College's Summer Institute for Literary and Cultural Studies.  The Director of the program, Dr. Shawn Christian, is someone I've known for almost 20 years--we met when we started the M.A. program in the English Department at Temple University back in 1994 (yes, I am that old! :)   Shawn invited me up to Norton, MA to talk to the students about my experiences in grad school, and especially about what made me decide to pursue a Ph.D.  He said give them real-talk, so that's what I tried to do.   I ended my presentation by performing poems from The SHE Book; Shawn was also a good friend of Brenda McMillan, the woman to whom my book is dedicated.  We were all in grad school together and also in the Future Faculty Fellowship program, which provided funding and support to grad students of color at Temple who are underrepresented in their field.

Here's a picture of me and Shawn in the Austin House where my children and I were staying on campus (I brought my 2 younger children with me--they had a blast! :)

I think we still look great for being 40! Lol :)  The kids and I drove about 5 1/2 hours to get to Wheaton College.  I only had about an hour after we arrived to try to get my head together and figure out what I wanted to tell the students.  I'm not sure how organized my actual talk about grad school was.  I feel like I went from one story to the next and probably rambled a bit.  I emphasized that the 3 most important points I would make about how to be successful in grad school were 1) Find faculty who will be super-supportive of them and their work, 2) Find a support system among their fellow grad students (if they are going to grad school while raising a family, it's also important to have a strong support system at home), and 3) keep an open mind about their work, the job market, and their future in academia.  Here's a panoramic picture of the group that my son took (all these pics of me and the group were taken by my children :)

Here are some more pics:

Didn't my kids do a great job taking pics? :)  The students were really great.  Many of them are undergrads and still deciding on whether or not to go to grad school.  A few of them are thinking about it b/c a professor and/or mentor had encouraged them to do so.  They all have plans for examining and revealing something potentially ground-breaking in their literary area of interest as they pursue aspirations of scholarship and research.  I know that whatever they decide, they will all be amazing and successful.  As long as they believe in their work and don't let various forces discourage them, they will achieve anything they want.

Real-talk: getting my M.A. and Ph.D. was the hardest thing I've ever done.  Harder than having children.  Harder than being the Chairperson of an academic department. Harder than performing in front of a hostile crowd.  Harder than slam poetry.  In some ways, it was pretty damn traumatic lol.  But there was no way I was going to let it break me.  I was the first person to get a college degree in my family, let alone pursuing grad degrees, so I had no idea what to expect and no one who could really advise me before I entered grad school.  When I was an undergrad, most of my professors were pretty old, and they were traditionalists--they didn't see the value of analyzing literary texts through theoretical paradigms.  In fact, many of them regarded  it with disdain--they were all about the purity of the text, so literary criticism, in their eyes, was supposed to be approached from a primary text-based methodology.  This was not helpful for me as I entered an English graduate program in which literary criticism was driven by theoretical methodologies.  In order to survive, I had to learn the various languages of theory and catch up.  And even when professors were saying that they didn't think I could handle the intellectual rigors of grad school, I couldn't let that hold me back.  In fact, that became my motivation--to prove them wrong.  To prove them all WRONG.  Despite all the naysayers, I continued to be awarded fellowships and grants, passed my preliminary exams with honors, and my entire dissertation committee loved my work.  My dissertation advisor, Dr. Larry Venuti, was so very supportive.  I wouldn't have been able to go through that process without his guidance and his belief in my work.  My family was also very supportive: my husband, mother, and mother-in-law all made it possible for me to have the time to complete my work.         

In the end, though, I opted not to pursue a life of scholarship and academia on a competitive, research-level.  After secluding myself and living like a hermit for 2 years while I was finishing my dissertation (and also while I was having babies), I decided that was not the life for me.  I didn't want to keep revising the next chapter or book, subjecting my work to an endless array of editors, or enduring a continual process of being judged.  I was tired of it all.  So when I was offered a FT position teaching at Community College of Philadelphia, I accepted it.  And I'm happy I did b/c it has allowed me to pursue my passion for teaching and motivating students.  It has also provided me with the flexibility to be able to continue my poetic work, both writing and performing.  If I had accepted a position at a 4-year college or university, I don't know that I would have had the same opportunity to have a creative life as well as an academic one--and I need that creative element b/c it feeds my soul.

Many thanks to the students in the SILCS program for your attention--for listening to me ramble on about grad school and for being engaged with my poetry and performance: Ashton, Ebony, Artasia, Kaitlin, Audrey, Marisol, Bianca, Brandy, Sushmita, and Amodhi.  Special thanks to Jerrell and Aundeah, the 2 graduate mentors in the program.  I hope you all will stay in touch.  Best of luck as you finish your degrees.

Finally, a heartfelt thanks to my friend Shawn and to Lindsay Davignon, Program Coordinator of SILCS.  Here's a pic of me, Shawn, and Lindsay right before I hit the road heading home:

In an upcoming post, I will share pics about our stay in the Austin House on campus--what an awesome place!  I also will be posting soon about Pyramid Lake in Reno (yes, I still have more to say about Reno!)  I also have some pics from June's Poetic Vibez show on June 15 in Philly that I want to share.

Hope you all are having a wonderful weekend.