Mellon Fellow Andrea Mays began thinking about stories and race when she was a kid watching old movies on television when she came home from school.  "I loved old black and white movies, not only for the fact that they were really these elaborate productions.  They also had so much to say about our country at an earlier time, by what was present in them, and by what was absent from them," she says.

After getting her undergraduate degree at George Mason University in Virginia, she came west, looking for a different experience.  Today she is nearing completion of her Ph.D. and is still focused on stories.  Her dissertation is titled, "Undoing American Pathologies:  Representations of Black Domesticity and the National Belonging 1915-1945."

Mays is looking specifically at painter Allan Rohan Crite, a Boston-based African-American artist, Nella Larson, a writer who worked during the Harlem Renaissance and the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, an organization formed by an African-American actor who wanted to prove that African-Americans could do something besides comedy.

She says she is exploring how the artists, as cultural workers, struggled to find ways to represent African American's complex and fragile relationship with the United States as a national homeland in the early 20th century. 

"They were artists who most people thought were benign, but their work was actually politically radical.  During the Spanish American War and World War I and II, when the U.S. was promoting itself as an opponent of tyranny, these artists called attention to America's domestic segregation, national disunity, and oppressive laws for people of African descent to say, ‘Hey, clean up your own house and live up to your own ideals before you try to export your politics.'  They critiqued the country using symbols and language most employed by the state in its own promotional propaganda," she said.

Mays is writing about figures on the margin of the Harlem Renaissance.  She had expected to find them clearly articulating what it meant to be a person of color in a country struggling to adjust to the changing reality of the early-20th century.  She didn't find easy answers and has had to adjust her dissertation to reflect what she is finding.

Pursuit of her Ph.D. has been a struggle for Mays.  She didn't want to take on much debt from loans and instead has taught courses in English Composition 101, 102 and various courses dealing with issues of race, class gender and sexuality in the Women's Studies, American Studies and Sociology Departments as she pursued her own study.  It's been a long battle and the Mellon Fellowship has been a big break. 

Mays says the Mellon Fellowship gave her a chance to research and begin writing the dissertation.  She is now working with a group of graduate students who meet regularly to review the work of group members and offer advice on ways to organize a dissertation.

Mays long term goal is to teach at the college level.  She says she is challenged by the diversity of the students she meets in UNM classrooms every day and the different expectations they bring to the work.

She plans on completing her Ph.D. during the next academic year.  After that, she's planning on heading to a coast.

Media contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; e-mail: kwent2@unm.edu