Meet Laura Jean Beard: Literary Critic and Feminist ScholarJuly 27, 2011
I became interested in women’s autobiography around the same time I began calling myself a feminist. I wanted to learn about the realities of women’s lives and hear their stories in their own words, especially since much feminist research seeks to recover the lost perspectives of women whose contributions have been written out of history. I’m not alone in the conviction that autobiography is both a personal and a political endeavor for women; there are a number of feminist scholars studying women’s autobiographical innovations. When I found out that former AAUW Fellow Laura Jean Beard was among them, I jumped at the chance to interview her.
Beard received her American Fellowship in 1992 while working on her dissertation in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “The prestige of having won that fellowship was helpful from the beginning of my career. To me, having gotten it from AAUW was meaningful as well,” Beard said, recalling that her mother was an AAUW member. “Any fellowship you get is wonderful, but for me as a female scholar and self-defined feminist, it was especially important.” The American Fellowship allowed Beard a year without teaching to concentrate full time on writing. Meanwhile, she was avidly reading the literature of indigenous peoples.
Beard’s 2009 book, Acts of Narrative Resistance: Women’s Autobiographical Writing in the Americas, takes a comparative approach to the works of women writers from Brazil, Argentina, and Canada. According to Beard, such an approach is rare considering the number of languages with which scholars of inter-American literature need to be familiar, including English, Spanish, Portuguese and a host of indigenous languages. Her goal was to put the fields of feminist autobiographical criticism and inter-American literary criticism into conversation, a project she plans to continue in her next book, Killing the Indian in the Child: Narratives of the Indian Residential School Experience.
Her ongoing research explores how indigenous people forcibly sent to residential schools in both the United States and Canada use autobiographical narratives to uncover mechanisms of oppression and strategies for healing. In 2008, holding the prestigious position of Fulbright research chair in native studies at the University of Alberta enabled Beard to investigate the enduring legacies of the residential school experience for indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.
Beard currently serves as interim chair for the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures at Texas Tech University. She teaches various undergraduate and graduate courses in Spanish, Portuguese, comparative literature, and women’s studies and is the associate editor of Intertexts: A Journal of Comparative and Theoretical Reflection. Her advice: “Do what you love most in life, and you’ll be good at it. If you do it with your whole heart, if you approach it ethically, with integrity, honesty, and passion, you will succeed.”
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Melissa Rogers.