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Modern Language Association Convention First-Time Attendee Reflections: A Brief Interview

Interview with Yasmine Anderson, Pitt English PhD Student, about the 2020 Modern Language Association Convention in Seattle, WA

1.) Can you tell me a bit about your research areas, current projects, and future plans?

I’m a second year student in the University of Pittsburgh’s Rhetoric and Composition doctoral program. My research, primarily, sits within Black Studies where I focus on Black women’s blues music and praxis as well as how the blues circulates and does ideological labor within other forms and projects. I am just beginning to prepare for the comprehensive exam stage of the program; however, these are the ideas that I am hoping to explore further within my dissertation. My future plans beyond the doctoral program at Pitt are still up in the air, but I am interested in learning more about relevant opportunities within academic publishing, diversity and inclusion departments, or university writing centers.

2.) Was this your first time attending MLA and/or a large academic conference? How would you describe that experience?

This was my first time attending MLA as well as a large academic conference. I was definitely nervous going into it, but I found it, overall, a lot easier than I expected. Being there with DBLAC, I felt more supported than I would have otherwise when it came to navigating the conference. Generally, I also found that the panels felt more informal than I initially expected. I was surprised by the lower attendance for some panels, but I think that the large scale of the conference makes it less conducive for meaningful conversation across institutions and disciplines.

3.) How would you describe DBLAC's support of your journey to and during MLA?

It was wonderful! Practically, knowing where I was staying, how to get there, how to move through the conference, etc. really helped calm my nerves. Being able to debrief with the group after our panel was also really helpful and helped to offset the largeness and anonymity of the conference. Most of the others in the DBLAC group had also been to more conferences and larger ones than I had and their support was incredibly influential. I was able to think more about how I wanted to navigate these types of academic conferences and how they could be helpful to me through those conversations.

4.) What was the title of your presentation? Is there a notable excerpt from your presentation that captures your argument? Would you mind sharing it?

My presentation was titled “Suffering Form: Literary Renderings of Blues Performance.” My paper was more exploratory than argumentative, but I think this passage captures my intended argument best:

When it comes to conversations around the concomitant construction of the human, humanism, and race, we often look to Black artistic traditions for meaning, for the elision of our own frustration over the human category, for our desire for something otherwise. But this search for meaning carries the baggage of Western academic values and therefore, is more about translation than transformation….In centralizing frustration and unrequited desire for meaning, Alice Walker’s “1955” prompts us to ask: What if we begin from here? If we sit in the gaps that attend frustrated theorization? Not to resolve or pave over them, but to think about what those gaps, those moments critical fugitivity, mean for our academic valuing of coherence, of knowledge produced, of lesson learned.


Want to present your research with DBLAC at a future MLA Convention? Email

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