Creative Arts Fellowship: Sam Kirschman


I’m Sam Kirschman, and I’m thrilled to be a Creative Arts Fellow this summer! I’m an English Writing major on the fiction track, minoring in French and Sociology, and pursuing a Global Studies certificate. Apart from this fellowship, I’m currently working as a New Student Ambassador for Pitt to help students experience a smooth transition into college life.

My work for this fellowship focuses on James Baldwin, a writer and activist with nuanced and complex ideas about how those roles are fundamentally entangled. My research draws from his essays, short stories, novels, interviews, public appearances, letters, and academic work analyzing his writing, particularly from a sociological perspective. From this research, I’m writing a short story which begins with his approach of representing distinct social forces which impact the minutiae and direction of each of our lives. Seeing as Baldwin himself utilized the work of Henry James as a model for his writing, I intend on using technical and literary elements from Baldwin’s work in a similar manner. My mentor is Evan Lee, and this project stems in part from reading the short story “Sonny’s Blues” in his class. The way in which Baldwin demonstrated the role of empathy in “Sonny’s Blues” solidified my understanding of his writing, his “witnessing,” as undeniably a piece of and a reflection of his activism. His praxis extended beyond writing and he navigated his identities—as writer-activist, as a black, gay man, as a public persona—with practicality as well as a refusal for pretense or insincerity. 

This project is important to me in parsing out my approach to writing in the context of both my studies of sociology and in light of the current threats to human rights and the resulting protests.  As my long-term goals revolve around writing and publishing, I want to have a grounded perspective on the role of writing and art, the duty of writers and artists, in portraying the world. I want to draw out one possible answer to the questions of representation: whose voices are heard, what violences are made visible or invisible, which experiences are treated with sincerity and which are dismissed off-hand? In keeping these ideas in mind, I hope to write on a similar path that Baldwin did, one which advocates unequivocally for empathy and recognizes both the historical and personal forces that form people’s lives.

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