The Clancy Taylor Summer Public Humanities Fund
This fund was established in memory of Clancy Taylor, whose impact on the English department graduate program was as deep as their commitment to research, scholarship, and activism, that would improve the lives of a diverse and inclusive public. It honors Clancy Taylor's commitment by funding summer internships that support the ongoing work of Rice faculty-led public humanities projects, public-facing research projects in the city of Houston, or non-paid internships with faculty, activists, or organizations where their efforts will be valued and recognized.
Zainab Abdali will continue the work she started last summer as a Clancy Taylor Public Humanities fellowship recipient, on the Living West as Feminists project with Dr. Krista Comer. Keep reading below for Zainab's report on her work in 2021!
Sonia Del Hierro will be at the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), working with the CCL's student advising team to support undergraduates as they apply to various fellowships. She will review fellowship requirements with students, conduct workshop sessions, consult on student writing samples, and assist in identifying and contacting potential community partners to support CCL's new faculty initiative.
Randi McInerney will be working for The Center for Urban Transformation (CUT) to perform grant research, copy-edit the CUT teams’ drafts, generate content for grant proposals, and, generally, learn about the genre and best practices.
Amy Bower - Summer 2021
Amy edited Professor Darien Hsu Gee’s anthology, Nonwhite and Woman: 131 Micro Essays on Being in the World. Her report of her experience is below.
Through the Clancy Taylor Public Summer Humanities Fund, I had the opportunity to work with the author Darien Hsu Gee. During the internship, I assisted Darien with various editorial tasks for her forthcoming anthology, Nonwhite and Woman: 131 Micro Essays on Being in the World. I was able to take part in nearly every aspect of the publishing process, from selecting essays for the anthology, to preparing the manuscript for publication, to marketing the book. The internship gave me firsthand experience of the publishing process and allowed me to develop my editing skills. As someone who is passionate about creative writing, Darien’s mentorship has also been invaluable as I pursue my personal writing goals.
Beyond the practical experience gained from the internship, it was extremely rewarding to watch the anthology come together. Nonwhite and Woman amplifies and celebrates the voices of women of color, with essays written by both established and emerging writers. I feel honored to have been a part of this project.
Zainab Abdali - Summer 2021
9 am in Houston. I sit down at my desk with a cup of coffee, open up my laptop, and put my headphones on. I hit play. The conversation that I listen to is wide-ranging – it covers settler colonialism, motherhood, birdwatching, generational trauma, academia, and many other topics. The conversation is taking place in Texas or New Mexico or Montana or Colorado or Utah or Idaho – other than Texas, all states I have never been to. I know the person asking questions – my internship supervisor and professor, Krista Comer – but not the people being interviewed, who are feminist scholars and colleagues of Dr. Comer’s and with whom I’ve communicated only via email to collect release forms and writing samples.
But as I transcribe these conversations, I feel strangely connected to each of the people being interviewed. One reason for this is that transcription necessarily requires close listening. You have to pay attention to every word – zoning out for even a few seconds means having to go back and replay the audio. Even if I am listening carefully, sometimes I can’t understand what is said, and need to rewind a word or a sentence multiple times to be able to figure it out. When they name someone or some place, I spend some time Googling to make sure I got the spellings right– having had my own name misspelled and mispronounced by everyone from baristas to professors for years, I am very particular about getting names right. I am using an AI program to auto-transcribe, but the software often misspells or misinterprets certain words, especially those in Spanish, doesn’t catch a word or phrase said in a softer tone, and does not transcribe sounds at all. Birds chirping. Plane flying overhead. Car driving by. Kids playing in the background. Dog barking. Krista and interviewee laughing. I write these down in parentheses so that the transcription is a fuller record of the interview, paying attention to more than just the words, paying attention to the sounds of the place that the conversation is happening.
By the time I am done transcribing an interview, I have spent hours listening to a person’s voice, and I’ve come to recognize their speech patterns, the particular cadence of their voice. But the sense of familiarity I feel with them is due to more than just carefully listening to them. It is also because of what they say. Many of the women being interviewed discuss their complicated relationship to the word “feminism,” especially the women of color, for whom feminism was not something arrived at easily in a sudden moment of revelation, but something that took years of negotiation to claim and reclaim. Many point to college and certain college courses as an important period in their journey to feminism. Some discuss how their feminism is tied to having a strong community of women around them who support them. Some discuss their complicated connection to “home” or a home place. Again and again, I am struck by how closely I can relate to the experiences of these women whom I have never met and who have vastly different backgrounds than my own.
When I was a junior in college, I remember excitedly telling my advisor and mentor, Carol Fadda, who is an Arab American professor of English at Syracuse, that while doing research for my undergraduate thesis, I had started reading this bridge we call home. I remember I told her how exhilarating it was to be reading this collection of writings by primarily women of color feminist scholars, including Muslim and Arab American feminists, and how I felt like I was reading my own experiences within its pages – a rare feeling for me, since at that time I hadn’t come across many feminist texts that centered women of color or that I felt I could relate to. And I remember Carol growing emotional as well, telling me that it was moving for her to see me find this book and these essays, because she herself could remember first coming across this book (and the original collection, This Bridge Called My Back) and feeling that same sort of excitement, that same sort of comfort of knowing you are not alone. Several of the contributors to this bridge we call home also mention what the original collection meant to them when they first encountered it: Renée M. Martínez refers to it as having the impact of a mother, a sister, a compañera; and one of the editors, AnaLouise Keating, writes of her first encounter with This Bridge Called My Back as a kind of coming home.
I bring up this anecdote because to me, this is one of the most powerful aspects of feminist scholarship, and this is what the Living West as Feminists project is fundamentally about–creating a space for feminists to come home to by talking, reading, and writing about our complex relationships to feminism and to place, and reflecting on our relationships with each other. Creating feminist rest areas, to use the term Dr. Comer has used on this blog.
Before I started this internship early in the summer, I had been nervous about spending two months working entirely from home, just sitting in front of my computer. I started my PhD in Fall 2020, so I was already exhausted from having done a whole year, my very first year of graduate studies, fully online, without the kind of in-person community of peers that had been so important for me in my undergraduate years. And now, here I was, about to start an internship where my tasks were primarily transcribing interviews, sending emails, organizing files, and website management – all done from home.
What I’ve come to realize as summer draws to a close is that Living West as Feminists has been able to cultivate a community of its own. Rather than feeling isolated during this summer, I found myself a part of a network of feminist scholars who are willing to connect their academic or professional work to their lived experiences, who approach concepts like feminism, settler colonialism, migration, borders as not only theoretical or academic topics, but as frameworks that tangibly shape or have shaped their lives.
As much as we talk about lived experience in academia, it’s still difficult to move away from the idea that real expertise somehow requires an impersonal, unbiased, objective approach to the theoretical concepts we study. But in the feminist rest area that all the people involved in Living West as Feminists have collectively created, the personal stakes of feminist theory and settler colonialism studies are made clear, and relationality, not some kind of distanced objectivity, is the defining feature of the project. Going into the second year of my graduate studies with all the surrounding uncertainty about how “normal” the academic year will be, not to mention the ever-present realization about the dire state of the job market and the humanities in general, it is communities like the one we have collectively built this summer through LWAF that provide me with a sense of comfort, and convince me of the possibility of creating something that people can come home to.
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As the post above conveys, I found the internship to be a rewarding experience that I think will help me both in terms of academic skills and in terms of the technical and professional skills gained. Dr. Comer was an extremely supportive supervisor–I especially appreciated that she not only gave me meaningful tasks that challenged me and interested me, but also that she included me in the decision-making of the project and really allowed me to feel like a collaborator, rather than a research assistant. I would definitely recommend this internship to other graduate students, especially those who are interested in public humanities.