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Photo by Clayton Cotterell

Naima Karczmar-Britton ’17


Hometown: Accord, New York, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Who I was when I got to Reed: I was terrified—I had no money and low self-esteem, academic and otherwise. In high school, I majored in visual art and thought of myself as a writer/painter, but I was also interested in studying law.

Influential book: Bluets, by Maggie Nelson, is super intertextual, highly personal, and stunningly written. It’s about a color, but also about love and pain. It’s rare to encounter a piece of literature as smart, and as moving

Favorite class: Prof. Pancho Savery’s [English 1995–] class on Critical Race Theory changed my entire academic trajectory. I didn’t know that race could be an academic endeavor. It was exciting for me to encounter theory that was legal and literary, revolving around this important aspect of my life.

Cool stuff: I worked for a brilliant poet, Prof. Samiya Bashir [English 2012–], who is also a personal hero of mine, on coordinating the Visiting Writers Series and Poetry Salon. An Eddings Opportunity Grant allowed me to attend the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal, where I worked on a project that was part biography of John Coltrane, part autobiography, and part conceptual project. It involved
the online Library of Babel and several large spreadsheets. 

How Reed changed me: Trial by fire will make you work harder than you ever have in your life—but it also taught me just how capable I was. 

Adviser: Prof. Pete Rock [creative writing 2001–]

Thesis: “Mythologies”

What it’s about: When I started the project, I was interested in how stories function and how they’re told. This concern was tied to considerations of race, hegemony, gender, and femininity—all things that we see in stories, fictional or otherwise. So I built a weird, hybrid, theoretical frame, which allowed my brand of storytelling to have an awareness of exactly what it was doing—basically literary theory and anthropology in lyric essay form. The finished product consisted of a series of lyric essays and short stories; some are autobiographical, others heavily theoretical, and others are reimaginings of the myths in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

What it’s really about: A creative investigation of fictionality, fields of reference, stereotypical discourse, and semiological myth in the form of linked stories and lyric essays. In other words, I’m not entirely sure.

What’s next: I’ve discovered a love of academia, and of theory, editing, and creative writing. I found a way to marry all of those things, and want to go to graduate school and then to teach.

Financial aid: I received an incredibly generous financial aid package that allowed me to attend Reed for all four years, including the Dorothy and Ted Johnson scholarship.