Professor Bianca C. Williams Awarded $75,000 Mellon/ACLS Fellowship for Project in Partnership with Well-Read Black Girl

Bianca Williams

Professor Bianca C. Williams (Anthropology, Psychology, Women’s and Gender Studies) was awarded a 2021–2022 Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Scholars and Society Fellowship, which provides a $75,000 stipend, an additional $6,000 for research, travel, and project costs; and $10,000 in support for each fellow’s host institution.

The goal of the fellowship is to support doctoral faculty with work on “a major research project in the humanities or humanistic social sciences that treats a significant issue or grand challenge in society — such as democratic governance, technological change, racism, climate change, economic inequality, or migration and immigration,” according to ACLS. 

Williams will be working on “AGENCY + CARE: Black Women’s Literature and the Power of Well-Read Black Girl(s).” A partnership with Well-Read Black Girl (WRBG), the project focuses on “the intergenerational communities of care and resistance Black women have built based on their shared love of reading and writing in the last decade (especially during the Movement for Black Lives),” Williams writes in the abstract. “This project celebrates the radical possibilities of this work, examining how storytelling and literature can be catalysts for care-centered community-building and organizing.”

“Reading books has always opened up new worlds for me,” Williams said. “And in my conversations with others online, on the subway, in my organizing communities, and in the classroom, I’ve heard how books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag, D├ína-Ain DavisReproductive Injustice, and Mariame Kaba’s We Do This ’Til We Free Us are pushing folks to get politically active. During the Movement for Black Lives and the coronavirus pandemic, Black women’s fiction and nonfiction writing is helping people reimagine the world we are living in, while teaching steps they can take to move towards that world. I’m grateful for the support from ACLS and this partnership with WRBG, which enables me to speak and work alongside these passionate readers, writers, and change agents.”

Well-Read Black Girl was founded in 2015 to connect Black women readers and writers and has since grown to include a literary festival and other programming for its more than 350,000 members. One of the questions Williams seeks to answer in the project is: “If we center Black women’s literature and its readers, how may this community of artists, activists, and scholars help us better understand conceptualizations of ‘public’ and its racialized and gendered dimensions?”

“The partnership with WRBG will document some of the spaces outside of higher education where Black women’s literature is leading people to engage in political change through Black feminist praxis, while also offering evidence that there are a variety of careers where Black women with graduate degrees are creating theoretical knowledge, teaching and communicating their research expertise, and engaging in life-long learning,” William writes in the abstract.

Williams is the editor of the forthcoming book, Plantation Politics and Campus Rebellions: Power, Diversity, and the Emancipatory Struggle in Higher Education, a multidisciplinary examination of the academy’s entanglement with slavery and settler colonialism in the United States. 

She is also the author of the award-winning 2018 book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism, which follows the experiences of African American women who travel to Jamaica, where they face the perils and disappointments of American racism while looking for intimacy, happiness, and a connection to their identities.

Williams is the faculty lead of The Graduate Center’s PublicsLab, where she encourages students and faculty to think broadly about public scholarship in a variety of careers and to reimagine doctoral education as a process of wellness and wholeness.

Submitted on: MAY 4, 2021

Category: Anthropology | Diversity | Faculty Awards | GCstories | General GC News | Grants | Psychology | Strategic Plan | Women's and Gender Studies