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Interview for Feminist Geographies Conference, May 2017

LaToya was born and raised in Shelby, North Carolina. LaToya’s small town and Southern upbringing informs her research, which focuses on Black resilience, survivability, and place-making as essential sites of geographic knowledge. She earned her PhD from Florida International University in 2014 and is currently Assistant Professor in the Global Studies and Human Geography Department at Middle Tennessee State University. She also serves as Chair of the newly formed Black Geographies Specialty Group.

How did you come to feminist research?

I would like to think that I was into feminist research before I knew what it meant. I have always been interested in stories. I started (voraciously) reading as a 3 year old and, as I grew older, became curious about the perspectives of other characters in the stories I read, especially girls and women (often mothers). Often, I would write new stories about the other characters’ lives, giving them voice, complexity, and agency.

Aside from books, there was my family life. My parents, Brenda and Belvin, had six children, five girls and one boy. As one might imagine, our household was full of interesting gendered dynamics. My mother was my source of knowledge. She influenced how I came to know and navigate the world. At some point, I realized that my view of my mother was in conflict with society’s view of her. Since that time, my intellectual approach has been to use feminist perspectives to interrogate similar conflicts, now between Black women’s geographies and hegemonic social structures and histories. Black women’s stories and storytelling shape my research program.

What was last article or book you read that got you excited?

I recently started reading Vivian May’s Pursuing Intersectionality, Unsettling Dominant Imaginaries. Even though I have not finished it yet (hooray summer!), Vivian has given language to ideas and perspectives that I have been grappling with in my own research and pedagogy.

What is your must read classic for feminist geography?

Easy – Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds. I encountered Katherine by serendipity, during the summer after my second year at FIU. At the time, I was looking for the “missing piece” in the geographic projects I wanted to pursue. I pulled up Google, typed in “black geographies”, and came across Katherine along with Clyde Woods (who transitioned two days after I ordered his book on Katherine’s work has guided my academic journey ever since, as she provides a theoretical and empirical model of feminist geography that centers black women’s sense of place.

What was your favorite class ever?

My favorite class ever was Southern Literature with Dr. Lucinda MacKethan at North Carolina State University (fun fact – I have undergraduate degrees in Theatre and English Literature). Dr. MacKethan is now retired, but while I was writing my dissertation, I got in touch with her to give her my gratitude. My understanding of geography – race, feminist, American South, Global South – is largely due to literary work we covered in that class, including Charles Chesnutt, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, and so many other authors and works.

How do you find feminist geography productive?

Feminist geography engages research and community work that decenters the false notion of objectivity. All of our research is informed by our subject position. Feminist geography recognizes the multidimensional nature of space and place, which is significant given that the nature of geography is to provide context. I know this question was not posed, but I would like to see a more encompassing and decolonized feminist geography that supports multiple ways of knowing. I dare say that the tools needed to survive and resist are found in indigenous/peasant/tribal/working class/non-Western knowledges (see Clyde Woods’ Development Arrested). This requires an intellectual power shift, where we resist reporting our interpretations of local knowledge production. This is where I find feminist geography could be productive now.

What do you hope for from a Feminist Geography Conference?

I hope for a sense of solidarity and coalition building amongst all who engage in feminist geographic thought and practice. I hope our few days together carry us as we navigate a radically shifting planet. I hope we do not limit these conversations to ourselves. Rather, I hope these conversations are used to engage and support our homes (residential dwellings, communities, academic institutions). I hope this also means we strategize on how to involve ourselves in public geography, dismantling the barrier between the academy and the rest of the world.

Are there any other activities or conversations outside of research and teaching that you are apart of on campus or in the community?

I am a member of the Nashville Feminist Collective, a relatively new community group (about 2 ½ years old) that has made space for feminist conversations and activism in the Middle Tennessee region. One of the things I appreciate about the NFC is that every action, statement, governing document, and educational tool is grounded in an intersectional lens.

I have also been actively involved in Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. for over 13 years and have held a number of local and national leadership positions. Theta Nu Xi was founded at UNC in 1997 and has been instrumental in shaping and supporting me as a leader, a scholar and, quite frankly, a human.

Lastly, I am a proud officer and member of the Black Geographies Specialty Group within the AAG. Globally, there is much energy and hunger for Black Geographies. I appreciate the support the AAG has given us, and I am so excited for what is to come.

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