Simon Abramowitsch
  1. Berkeley High School – When I graduated from Berkeley High School in the 1990s, it—like the other Berkeley public schools I attended—was still very much under the influence of 1960s and 70s activism around a whole host of issues, from ethnic and gender equity in curricula to environmental conservation. My education in ethnic studies classes in Black Studies and Chicano Studies Departments—established for me not only the unquestioned fact of such disciplines but also their power and the complexity of their existence: I would come to find that elsewhere this was not to be assumed. No, it was not common to develop analyses of racism in a Black Studies class in the first high school Black Studies Department in the country. No, not common for Sonia Sanchez to come to read a poem she wrote for Tupac Shakur’s funeral. But yes, the fact that black and Latino students still graduated and attended university at significantly lower rates than white students like myself was all too common. To learn how to understand this coexistence, the complexities and contradictions of activism institutionalized, the various realities in which we move…
  1. D.W. Griffith Middle School – At a middle school in Los Angeles with a name that honored a man whose work I found incredibly offensive but at which few others batted an eye, I struggled as a new 7th grade English teacher. One of my students could not sit still in class. The work bored him. Reading because someone said so, or because it was “good for him” was not motivation. But on a springtime field trip to UCLA—a “go-to-college” field trip—our task for the day was a scavenger hunt: to move, to search, to read, to learn. My didn’t-read-couldn’t-sit-still student was always in front, map in hand, leading the way. It would be flattering to say that this engagement was because of UCLA, a majestic, inspiring place. But it was the doing that moved this student, gave him context and purpose. To learn how to create together the doing…
  1. The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley – As a Bancroft Library Fellow, I conducted archival research in Bancroft Reading Room for my dissertation, which examines the production of multi-ethnic literature in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bancroft is a wonderful resource for scholars and my own research in particular: the library has fantastic holdings in social justice movement ephemera, small press literary publications, and the records of several local presses, such as Momo’s Press, a San Francisco-based press that published early work by Jessica Hagedorn, Ntozake Shange and Victor Hernandez Cruz. This work came out of a vibrant multi-ethnic poetry scene in the Bay Area in the 1970s—poets reading all over the place. Bubbling energy, and yet in the archive all of this—mimeographed literary magazines that cost a quarter, poetry chapbooks sold on the street, posters for poetry reading benefits in support of political causes—all of this was quiet, preserved in acid-free folders and boxes. Preservation is certainly an important endeavor, but I wanted to take all of this back outside the library, post things on telephone poles and put them in the hands of the young poets who read their poems from smartphone screens. To learn how to shoot the present through the archive and put it on street corners…