Processing the Past
Danielle Geller ’14LS combines her archives training with creative nonfiction to create a unique window into the past. A recent winner of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Award for her writing, Geller shares how her studies in LIS have informed her creative work.
Congratulations on being selected as a
Rona Jaffe Foundation Award winner! What writing projects are you currently
so much! It's an incredible honor, and I'm so grateful to the Foundation, my
mentors, and everyone who has ever read my work and given me advice on how to
make it stronger. Currently, I am working on two projects. My memoir, Dog Flowers, is primarily about
caretaking and my dysfunctional family. The second project is a collection of
essays, tentatively called Off-reservation
Indians, drawing on my experiences as a researcher and archivist to grapple
with the weight of Native American history on my mother, her family on the
reservation, and my three sisters.
What drew you to pursue your MFA in
been a writer, but as an undergrad I was advised to wait to pursue an MFA—to get a little more life experience and distance
from the things I was writing about. That’s how I ended up in Boston, at
Simmons, in the library and archives profession. But after my mother passed
away in 2013, the only way I knew how to deal with her loss was to start
writing again. And after I started writing again and looked at the very rough
draft I produced, I knew I wanted to study creative writing more seriously.
What inspires your writing?
and unsatisfactory answer is ‘everything.’ Most of my writing, though, starts
with a memory. I love to write a scene with dialogue from memory, and then I
have to sit back and think about what I am trying to say and why.
Can you tell us about your time at SLIS?
the opportunity it gave me to dip my toes into a lot of different archives and
repositories. One summer I was an intern at the Smithsonian's National Museum
of the American Indian, where I worked in the Repatriation Department and
learned so much about the difficult and complicated process of returning
sensitive cultural materials to indigenous communities.
archives training is having an enormous impact on my current writing projects.
One of the motifs of my essay collection is the act of "processing"—processing a physical collection, the evidence my
mother left me of her life. In some ways, this has been my substitute for
processing all of my complex emotions about her death. And my studies at
Simmons gave me a lot of tools to start uncovering her childhood on the
reservation, which she didn't like to talk about with me.
Your work seems most interested in
exploring cultural identity. How do you think the LIS field can best support
the preservation of cultural heritage?
a lot of small and local organizations doing great work in this area, but for
the bigger academic institutions, it's important to invite your communities
into this conversation. I'm thinking of a project I worked on at Northeastern
University. The university collaborated with the African American community of
Lower Roxbury to begin an oral history project, with the hopes of preserving
the memories and experiences of a community displaced by the City of Boston's
urban renewal programs. Those kinds of projects aren't easy to undertake, but I
think there was a lot of good that came out of it.
As a side
note, if anyone's interested in that oral history project, the interviews are
all available on Northeastern University's DRS. I'd recommend listening to the
interviews with Richard G. Brown. I wish I could have met him in person!
Is there anything else you wish I’d asked
names are Little Foot and Kara Thrace. But no, I think we've covered a lot of
ground! Thank you again. And I miss you, Boston! (sort of.)
Photo courtesy of Danielle Geller.