This spring, the sixth Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fellow was chosen from a field of 21 graduate student applicants from a wide range of disciplines. Brandon Callender, a doctoral candidate in English, received the highest accolades of this year’s faculty selection committee and an award of $4,000.
Brandon grew up in a West Indian family on Long Island, New York. After earning a B.A. in English from CUNY Hunter’s College, where he explored black gay anthologies, faculty mentors pointed him toward Berkeley for graduate studies. Here, Brandon says he found “the intellectual culture… at once so much more relaxed and yet, in everything, so precise… allowed me to engage my work and my life in unimagined ways.”
Brandon’s early graduate research exposed him to debates in queer and literary history and the imperative to “always historicize” the objects of study. His dissertation topic, “History and its Kind: A Sense of the Other in Black Queer Literature,” emerged from the tension between embracing and interrogating constructions of queer ancestry and interpretations of a black gay lineage of writers.
In support of Brandon’s application for the Brett Fellowship, Associate Professor of English Nadia Ellis wrote: “Taking in the history of queer studies and recent challenges to the field, particularly from critical race theory and queer of color scholarship, Brandon asks a fundamental question about literary history, epistemology, and practices of reading: namely, ‘What, in the end, will be the future of the black queer past?’ …The rigor of his inquisition, the spread and depth of the critical lexicon that enable his questions, and the freshness and brilliance of his readings of these writers make this project one of the very most exciting I’ve had a chance to be involved in.”
“Apart from his truly exemplary academic work,” she continued, “he is also a peer and colleague of the first order: warm, generous, open and kind. He creates community with authenticity and makes academic spaces more generative, lively, and engaged wherever he finds them.” Brandon has helped facilitate the Queer of Color Working Group and hopes to resume doing so next fall. He notes: “Through queer social events, working groups, and conferences on campus, I have found a wonderfully eclectic community that now extends within and beyond the academy, and which has become, for me, a space of great refuge and replenishment.”
As for future plans, Brandon aims to join the professoriate, possibly returning full circle to CUNY, and hopes to “return to my creative life in fiction writing, a lifelong joy which I endlessly put off each month.”
Asked for advice for other graduate students, Brandon replies: “I’m not too confident to give advice in the abstract, so I’ll share instead what I try to practice in my life each day. In all my strivings, I try to spot the momentum in what at first seems to be only the familiar feeling of stiff joints and vanished hours — the feeling of another day that’s come and passed in exactly the same way. Instead, I hope to retain the sense of the world as an endless happening, which we must wholly recommit ourselves to each day. I have to believe in the self that is being remade, even when I cannot see it in myself or in my work. For support, I often look to a well-loved poem by Lucille Clifton, ‘Turning,’ which helps me announce — over and over — that timely and transformative arrival back into the world each day as a teacher, a thinker, and as a fellow traveler.”
About the Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fellowship
Established in 2009 as a grassroots initiative by campus faculty, staff, students, and friends, the Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fellowship is Berkeley’s only endowed fund to support graduate students in LGBT-related research in any field. It honors the memory of Philip Brett, an eminent music scholar, now considered a pioneer of queer musicology, who taught at Berkeley from 1966 to 1991.
Each year, a multi-disciplinary faculty committee selects the Brett Fellow from student applicants from a diverse range of academic programs. Application deadlines are in March each year.
Faculty interested in serving on the selection committee are invited to contact Professor Emeritus Davitt Moroney. For previous Brett Fellows, see the Graduate Division website and the Berkeley NewsCenter.
Support the Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fund.