Student Spotlight: Melody Nixon

February 13, 2023


What is your current standing and research focus?

I'm a sixth-year PhD Candidate, currently finishing up my dissertation. In the broadest sense, I'm interested in political art, and what the special muscles are that art has to present, contest, and think through political problems. More specifically, I focus on the intersection of poetry and race, and look at how contemporary US and Pacific poets use poetry as a vehicle for the discussion of race and racial subjectivity in the Transpacific region. This means I get to read a lot of poetry, and think deeply about race and decolonization, which are things I care about a lot. 


What made you apply to the History of Consciousness PhD program and decide to attend?

Actually, a friend who came to UCSC as an undergrad. We co-founded a literary activist project together, Apogee Journal, when we were pursuing our MFA degrees at Columbia University. We worked on Apogee together for a number of years, and I guess he got to know my politics and the questions that motivated me. When I told him I was looking at PhDs, he insisted I check out the History of Consciousness program here. I immediately loved the scope of HisCon's interdisciplinary approach, which at the time was rare in the States (fortunately that's changing), and my conversations with then-faculty David Marriott hooked me. (Since then, Eric Porter has been an incredible, flexible, generous advisor.) HisCon was always my first choice, and I was so thrilled to be accepted. 


Do you have any upcoming events or publications?

A lot of things are in process at present, but nothing I can "officially" announce! My main project (in addition to my dissertation) is a creative manuscript that deals with settler colonial being through the form of a lyric memoir. I have been working on it throughout my PhD, and it has informed my critical research (and vice versa) in the best kind of cross-pollinating way. I have an amazing agent, Renee Zuckerbrot of MMQ Literary, who is my guide through these final revisions and tweaks. 

I have a paper coming out called "Animal, Mineral, Writer," about posthumanism and literary practice, and I'll be sure to post that to my Academia page when it's published. 



Who are you most in conversation with in your work? 

I engage with creative writers and poets primarily, and the literary theorists who guide my interpretations of them. The poets I'm currently reading are Douglas Kearney, Saretta Morgan, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Anahera Gildea, Michaela Keeble, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and Craig Santos Perez, all from the "Transpacific" region (Oceania, Pacific Ocean islands, and the US). Literary arts theorists I return to often are Theodor Adorno, W.E.B. DuBois, Audre Lorde, Timothy Yu, Jonathan Culler, Josephine Nok-Hee Park, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy.  

My work is invested in and shaped by critical race theory too, so there are race theorists, Black critical theorists, and decolonization theorists who feature a lot. Sylvia Wynter, Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Eduardo de Silva, and Frantz Fanon all feature in my analysis.  The legacy of Linda Tuhiwai Smith is there in the contemporary indigenous studies theorists I'm reading like tebrakunna country and emma lee, Karen Fisher (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui, Pākehā), Jacinta Vanderfeen (trawlwulwuy), and in whiteness studies theorists too, like Patrick Wolfe. 


When not doing dissertation work, how do you like to spend your time?

Running around after my 15-month-old toddler, trying to tread the line between stopping her from accidentally harming herself (putting a battery, or bug, or fun-looking scissors in her mouth) and encouraging open-ended growth and explanation (what DOES a battery taste like?). (As a theorist I probably overthink parenting.) I also like to go ocean diving with my partner. And we both love to cook. We get quite competitive about it, and we critique each other's meals. Actually that part isn't so fun.  


If you could have a meal with any one thinker throughout history, who would it be and why?

Just one? Ooh, that's tricky. Epicurus? Although actually, his shared meals were supposed to have been quite plain. He must've perfected the art of conversation-well-timed-with-a-mouthful-of-food, though. Plus women, and enslaved ancient Greeks, were allowed at his school. I'd like to attend a meal where I'm permitted to eat. 

I used to think my serious answer to this question is Frantz Fanon, because his theory and practice are so multilayered. He's like the ur practitioner in the way he marries theory and praxis. Directly observed insights from his time with patients guided his theory of the ways that racialization interacts with and shapes the self. He argued against the institutionalization of mental health patients, a topic that's close to my heart. He also fought for decolonization, in Algeria. How many decolonial theorists have done that? 

But now (ha, I'm cheating!) I'd love to have a meal with HisCon's own Angela Davis, to be honest. Her vision, her life experience, her activism, her brilliance, her grasp of philosophy, her feeling for sensuality (as she shows in her writings about music)... I can't imagine a better conversation and meal partner.