Texas Tech University

Doctoral Student Receives Prestigious Fellowship

Amanda Bowman

April 26, 2018

Kerry Manzo was awarded a $30,000 fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.

Kerry Manzo
Kerry Manzo

Kerry Manzo, a doctoral student in Texas Tech University's Department of English in the College of Arts & Sciences through Texas Tech's Graduate School, has received a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship. The $30,000 fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“It feels great to receive this fellowship,” Manzo said. “I was very surprised, not because I don't think I do quality work, but because it's a very competitive fellowship. This was my second year in a row applying. I didn't get it last year, and this year, I thought ‘I'm just going to try again,' and I did that thing where you don't set your heart on it. I'm very happy, very honored and thoroughly excited that I'll be able to spend next year really finishing, polishing and producing a dissertation that is my absolute best work with this support.”

Mark Sheridan, vice provost for graduate and postdoctoral affairs and dean of the Graduate School, is pleased that Manzo has received such a significant fellowship.

“I am extremely proud of Kerry for receiving a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship,” he said. “This is a very prestigious award that recognizes Kerry's accomplishments and promise as a scholar. External fellowships such as this also reflect on the high quality of our graduate programs and contribute to the stature of the university.”

Only 65 fellowship awards are given out annually, and recipients receive a $30,000 stipend, as well as funds for research costs of up to $3,000 and for university fees of up to $5,000. This allows students to focus solely on their research and dissertations.

Manzo's dissertation is broken into two foci: mid-20th century West African literature and the emergence of queer literature in West Africa in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, specifically in Nigeria.

“My research is in African literature, and I mostly study West African literature,” Manzo said. “There's this conversation that's gone on and off again in African literature: the question on authenticity. What makes African literature ‘authentic?' The two strands of my dissertation, one looks at a 1960s counter-culture movement that began in Ibadan, Nigeria, then grew to be a transnational literary counter public over the course of a decade. That movement was called the Mbari Movement. I tell people to conceptualize it as sort of the Harlem Renaissance of West Africa.”

Manzo said the other strand moves forward to the late 20th, early 21st century and examines the emergence of LGBT, or queer, literature in West Africa, with a focus on Nigeria.

“In 2014, Nigeria passed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act,” Manzo said. “That tends to be when we talk about LGBT people or homosexuality in Africa right now. Some people, when they talk about African literature or LGBT issues or rights in Africa, they say, ‘Homosexuality is un-African.' Then other people will say, ‘It's not homosexuality that's un-African, it's homophobia that's un-African.'

“And what I'm basically saying is heterosexuality is actually un-African. It's a colonial import because heterosexuality is a way of thinking about sexual, marital and romantic relationships that's really based on a couple and, in particular, about masculinity and femininity. It really just is something that colonialism brought.”

Manzo noted that Kanika Batra, director of graduate studies, director of comparative literature, an associate professor in the Department of English and Manzo's adviser, was instrumental in the successful completion of the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Fellowship application.

“I have a wonderful adviser and excellent committee,” Manzo said. “My adviser has been there every step of the way when I've asked, ‘Is this a good idea?' She's just very good at giving me sound advice. When I told her the first time I applied for this fellowship, she said, ‘It's tough, but do it,' and she helped me all along the way. And she helped me again this year. She was giving me feedback and helping me with the application materials. She doesn't let me get away with slacking, and she also has been great at giving me guidance.”

Batra is delighted with the work Manzo has done to receive this fellowship.

“The Mellon/ACLS scholarship is, by far, one of the most prestigious dissertation fellowships offered to graduate students in the U.S., and quite possibly the world,” Batra said. “This fellowship rewards groundbreaking and meticulous research, and Kerry's research is groundbreaking. The award rate for this fellowship is probably less than 5 percent. I don't believe anybody in the English department has ever won this award. Kerry is the first one to my knowledge, and I've been at Texas Tech for 10 years.”

Manzo hopes this recognition will encourage others to apply for fellowships like the Mellon/ACLS one.

“I don't know how many people from Texas Tech apply to this fellowship every year, but my feeling is, apply,” Manzo said. “I know graduate students are busy and we don't have a whole lot of extra time to do stuff, but applying for these things is a really good experience. I had to break down my dissertation proposal into five pages, and that helped me hone my ideas for the dissertation itself. So it was, in many ways, invaluable.”

About the American Council of Learned Societies

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), a private, nonprofit federation of 75 national scholarly organizations, is the preeminent representative of American scholarship in the humanities and related social sciences. Advancing scholarship by awarding fellowships and strengthening relations among learned societies is central to ACLS's work. This year, ACLS will award more than $20 million to over 350 scholars across a variety of humanistic disciplines.