My first few weeks as a graduate student at St. John’s were exciting and frightening all at once. The combined anxiety of relocating to a new city, “the City,” alone, finding a living space and becoming acclimated with a new learning environment presented significant challenges. However I have come to regard challenges as opportunities in disguise. My fear was not unfounded but warranted. This is a new life and there will be growing pains. But with those pains come a whole lot of joy.
I was apprehensive about bringing my concerns to my Introduction to the Profession professor, Dr. Steve Mentz. In my preparation for graduate school, I had been forewarned of the delicate balance of cooperation and competition that exists at the graduate level. I did not want to seem fearful or anxious when, as I initially thought, most of my fellow scholars seemed so confident in their understanding of the material and comfortable in this environment.
Dr. Mentz acknowledged my worry as natural. This is in no way an easy transition. He also encouraged me to share my experiences and studies with himself and my fellow scholars. He stressed the importance of me writing as a way to channel my worries in a way that is positive and productive. Dr. Mentz also took the time to engage me in discussion about my research interest and offer valuable suggestions as to how to begin my prospectus and dissertation research. I particularly appreciated this gesture.
My research interest leans toward Modernist/Post-Modernist African American writers of the post-WWII period namely Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. In my previous study of these writers, opposition to the black writer’s perspective from the gatekeepers of literary criticism is a constant discussion topic. Quite simply, the gatekeepers considered black literature inferior to the traditional Western canon and Western aesthetic. Through their hard work and courage these authors and others fused the Western literary tradition with the current of blues and jazz rhetoric to create a new tradition altogether American in nature. Their work is my love.
Initially, I was hesitant to share my interests. At my last institution, a historically black college, there was a natural feeling of pride in all things black. I realize that at this university my focus will be broader. Dr. Mentz advised me to widen the scope of my readings while at the same time focusing on tightening my particular research, perhaps comparing the black authors to French existentialist writers of the same time period.
In our short conversation as well as in seminar, Dr. Mentz brought to light the issue of balancing the labor and joy of study. I need to incorporate a sense of fun into this experience and I have to admit in the first few weeks I did not. I love to read and I love to learn. There is nothing I want to do more for the rest of my life than associate and collaborate with teachers and learners. Perhaps, through the challenges, never forgetting why I am here will serve as motivation to push forward.
October 11, 2011