My MA Thesis Defense

I defend my Master’s Thesis tomorrow. I spent most of the summer reading and writing. Submitting to my chair, and then editing. I read a lot of stuff. A lot. I wrote a lot. I wrote so much that my Prof has said more than once, after I’ve trimmed as much as I thought I could, that “It could be tighter,” which is to say, that when I submit my final edits, it definitely should be tighter. And now, I sit here in front of a PowerPoint presentation severely doubting whether or not I can do this. Imposter Syndrome will never go away. I am on the verge of an MA, and still, I can convince myself that people are lying when they say that my writing and scholarship are good.

Logically, I know that’s not true. If only because, me being at this point is a reflection of my committee chair. But, also, I know that I’ve done some good work while in this program. I wrote a collection of short stories centered around a character named Dre. Like me, Dre struggles with what it means to be successful after a life full of trauma and loss. You can sabotage your own happiness with the scars of your upbringing. There are eight stories in the collection and every single one is a piece of me. Some are entirely made up, and others are pieces that borrow more than a bit of truth surrounded by more than a bit fiction. I’d guess that’s true of most writers. One of the stories, “The Same Road,” is about my Gramma. I knew I had to write about her, and when it came to fictionalizing the experience of being with her during her final days, I couldn’t bring myself to change her name. She’s Judy Ellen in real life and in my story.

Tomorrow is also the three year anniversary of when I lost her. I chose the date because I know she’d be proud of me, even if she didn’t totally understand what I was doing. She’d know I was getting an education and trying to do better with my life. I’d call her after and say I passed my defense and she’d say, “Hey baby, well that’s alright,” and then she’d laugh the way she always did, like she was trying to hold something back, or somebody was in the room and she didn’t want to be too loud.

I’m very proud of the work I’ve done. The stories, I think, are almost all very, very good. Some of the best writing I’ve ever done. The academic portion of my thesis is about the impact of the white gaze on my development as a writer. It’s been an interesting journey to think about. From my Associate’s Degree where I felt like I didn’t belong in school, was unsure of my place, and had a lot of anti-black sentiment surrounding language and education, to finishing my MA, and firmly in the camp of June Jordan and James Baldwin (amongst many others), that Black English is an a thriving and valid language. I’ve spent the last 2.5 years centering Black voices in my scholarship. When I was assigned white authors, I forced a Black perspective into the topic. I read and cited Black women. I got to present a paper about James Alan McPherson to the MELUS 2021 conference. Over the course of my degree, and especially over the summer, I read so many books by Black writers, that I truly feel freed from white narratives. After completing my thesis edits, I have ideas for at least two novels, and a collection of poetry centered around Superheroes and Social Justice. For that, I want to find an artist to draw the poems in comic panels. I think that would be most cool.

I truly feel as if I’m coming into my own. My voice feels more authentic, more “me,” than it ever has. And so, even if my mind is trying to play tricks on me, I can legitimately feel how different I am as a writer and scholar than I was when I started. My goal is very clear: Center people who look like me in my conversations. Write about people who look like me. Cite people who look like me. Lift up the people who look like me.

I know that I’ve done that, and so I’m pretty happy about it.

And after, I’m going to spend some time writing about the things I’ve read. Stephen Graham Jones, Deesha Phillyaw, Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Toni Morrison, Danielle Evans, NK Jemisin, Honoree Fanonne Jefers, Yaa Gyasi, Ibram X Kendi.

Five or six years ago, if somebody asked me what my favorite book was, or to recommend an author 9/10 times it would have been a white person. That’s almost never going to be the case anymore. And I’m going to spend all of my time and effort in academia making sure people who look like me have the opportunity to feel seen in the classroom in ways that I never did.

And now, I go to sleep and get a solid 8 hours of rest.

-Skillz

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