LaShonda Barnett '98
How did you become interested in women's history, why this particular program?
My last year of undergrad I took a course with Noliwe Rooks and was struck by how she analyzed American Literature drawing less on literary criticism and more on history. Prior to Rooks' class, I had never studied literature through a historical lens. This sparked my interest in studying more history but not merely to learn about the past; I wanted to gain the tools used by historians when conducting research, and this was my primary reason for choosing Sarah Lawrence. I knew that I would get the rigorous training requisite for a budding historian.
B.A. English Literature & Linguistics, University of Missouri-Kansas City
What was your experience at Sarah Lawrence College like?
Wonderfully challenging. It raised the bar on what I would expect from myself and my life.
"A Journey Home: African American Lesbians and Religious Autonomy"
Reason for your interest in the subject?
Studying history and anthropology simultaneously while at SLC, I became increasingly interested in the ways sexuality was influenced by race and religion. The ethnographic tools I gained in anthropology helped me to do the important work of a social historian--capturing the marginalized voices, synthesizing those voices and analyzing them, then contextualing them historically.
What did you take from your experience at Sarah Lawrence?
My SLC experience turned my wavering personal belief that my creative impulses had no place in the scholarly arena over on its head-thankfully.
I had often struggled with allowing the two to feed each other. Imagine my delight then when I realized at SLC, that it was not only a possibility but really in the long run, a requirement if I was going to fulfill the promise of any academic or creative project. As a result, now at the heart of my professional and personal life lies a deep devotion to total deconstruction of systems and paradigms that impede or minimize the spirit of individualism. My creative and scholarly work tends to examine legacies of racial and other forms of social injustice in context with the creative, intellectual and visionary strategies developed by women and African Americans over time.
Further education and degrees after graduation:
American Studies PhD, College of William and Mary
Following graduation from SLC, I matriculated in an American Studies PhD program in Virginia with the goal to return to New York City as soon as possible to research and write my dissertation (largely focused on the theorization of black women jazz artists). Upon returning to NYC, I was presented with numerous opportunities. I hosted my own jazz radio program on WBAI, was an invited Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University (2002-2003); consulted and taught at Jazz at Lincoln Center; acquired a literary agent and as such developed a deeper commitment to my creative writing, and most significantly, returned to SLC to teach seminars on black women's history. Most recently, I completed a book of interviews with African American women singer/songwriters. This project, largely inspired by my doctoral thesis, is the first collection that focuses on inspiration and creative projects among black women musicians across genre. Currently, I'm completing my first historical fiction novel, Jam, which, set in the Jim Crow South, courses a one woman's launch of a black newspaper.