Q&A with Bryant Taylor

Bryant Taylor

For two years, Bryant Taylor (PhD candidate, Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies) had a special appointment working as a Graduate Employee (GE) on our 50th anniversary events and projects. I had the opportunity to chat with Bryant about his time at CSWS before he left for a summer internship on an African American archival history project at Harvard University. Click this video link to watch a clip from our interview, and read the full conversation below. —Jenée Wilde

Jenée Wilde: I’m so happy to have worked with you for the last couple of years. It has been completely amazing!

Bryant Taylor: Me, too. It’s been such a blast!

JW: Why don’t you share a little bit about who you are and what you’re doing at UO. 

BT: I’m a third year Ph.D. candidate in Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies (IRES). I’m originally from Oakland, California and moved to Eugene three years ago. My research focuses on black queer homemaking practices, looking at how black queer folks archive and document experiences of home, specifically through objects and ephemera. I’m interested in how these objects—which are considered transient, unimportant, and difficult to catalog in terms of archival studies—are really important and valuable to the people who hold them. Understanding that value is crucial to understanding black queer experiences of home more broadly, but also very specific, unique personal experiences as well.

JW: Can you give me one example of what you mean by ephemera? 

BT: It’s thinking about the objects that people carry with them that, to the outside world, would be deemed as unimportant. That could be a photograph, a letter, a baseball ticket. A lot of the times, people keep these objects because they hold some sort of memory attached to either an experience that they had or a loved one. And from the outside, no one would know that. But to the person, once they tell you these stories, they’re like, oh, this means so much to me because my ex-boyfriend gave this to me. He was my first boyfriend and I loved him. Or, my grandma, she wrote me this letter when I moved away to remind me that she still loved me, and I was just coming out at the time. All these personal objects that people have with them tell these grand beautiful stories that make up who they are and how they move through the world. I’m really interested in examining these objects and thinking about what they can tell us about black queer experiences.

JW: What do you hope to accomplish with your research into black queer experience through these ephemeral objects? 

BT: I’m hoping to inspire more conversations around homemaking as a practice because it’s not easy for queer folks. I think a lot of the discussions around “home” is that everyone has one and building a community so easy—you just have to go out and meet people and do all these things. But a lot of times it’s not always that easy. And creating home, creating community can be a difficult experience. So looking at the objects that people carry with them—how they decorate their homes with these objects, the significance that they have, the memories that they unearth for folks—is really important. I’m hoping to dive more into those conversations. 

I know specifically for me, I have so many objects—photographs, letters, movie tickets, train tickets—that bring back so many memories of home for me. I think coming from Oakland to Eugene, I rely on those objects to remind me of what home is and can feel like and to remind me of my roots and people that care about me.

So there’s definitely a lot that I hope to share and uncover with these objects. 

JW: Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with CSWS. 

BT: I was the GE for two years. CSWS brought me on to help with the 50th anniversary. I remember my IRES advisor said I should apply because at the time I did not have a GE-ship lined up, so I did and have been happy ever since!

JW: Can you tell us some of the things that you did while you were at the center and how they have contributed to your research and future work trajectory? 

BT: My time at CSWS has seen me do so many different projects, from building databases of more than 700 grant recipients over the last 50 years, to archival work and planning events, to minor day-to-day operations at the center. It’s all been really fun and useful. I think most definitely, for me, what I take away is all the archival projects from my time here in the past two years. I think that’s a route that I want to go after my PhD journey is done. And so knowing that I have tons of experiences digitizing documents and creating spreadsheets of how many publications we have through the years and where you can find all that material archived is really my jam. I was glad to get that experience, and hopefully that can carry me into my future professional goals.

JW: Being so involved with steering our 50th anniversary celebrations, what were some of the most impactful experiences for you?

BT: I think the Alumni Symposium was perhaps one of the biggest and most impactful events for me. That’s when I really got to see folks from the beginning come back and talk about their goals for the center at that time, and to hear folks throughout the center’s history talk about the impact that CSWS had on them—that was really inspiring.

I think seeing a lot of the old documents and working with them to create the CSWS timeline exhibition in the Knight Library also impacted me. I read the original center plans, and then to hear the original folks at the symposium talk about their hopes and dreams for this place, and to have it all realized and actualized 50 years later—all throughout the years, really—it was an eye-opening moment. You never really know what kinds of impacts a project, that that you don’t know how long will last, will have on folks. That was really inspiring, for sure. 

JW: Given all this time you spent with the center and all these events that you attended, tell us what the anniversary theme “feminist features” means to you.

BT: To me, “feminist futures” means freedom. I think a lot about the original goals that the women had for CSWS at the time, and they had so much creative freedom to create their vision. I think if more people had that option to just create the things that they want in the world, to better the world, we would be in such a beautiful place. 

JW: What do you do outside of all of this for self-care, to get your mind off work and unwind?

BT: I’m a huge gamer. Actually, it’s funny—one of the video games that I’m playing right now, Season: A Letter to the Futureis a part of my current research because it does a lot with black archival practice in the game. It’s one of those situations where self-care is merging with the research, but it’s all fun, it’s all games. If I’m not in the office and not at school, you can definitely find me in the virtual sphere, gaming it out.

JW: Do you have any final words you want to leave us with? 

BT: Thank you for everything. My time at CSWS has been such a beautiful experience. I’ve learned so much. I’ve got to interact with so many different people on campus that I probably wouldn’t have. I think departments can be quite isolating, in that sometimes they don’t interact much with each other. But CSWS has such a broad reach around campus, I got to talk to people in philosophy and biology and romance languages—all the different departments and institutions on the campus. So I’m really, really grateful that I got to be here for two years. Don’t forget about me!

JW: We would never! Thank you so much!

Watch the full interview.