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Spark: An Introduction

Written by Maija Brown

About SPARK

Welcome to the second issue of SPARK

A starkly black tree, individual branches small and large reaching out beyond the frame—an old tree aspiring above and beyond. Embedded in the center of the image, a bold, not perfectly round circle, colored with different shades of blue, with the brush strokes still visible. Bristlecone pines are ancient, wise trees. They thrive and survive in harsh environments where other trees might wither. As bristlecone pines mature, they bend and twist, taking on almost human-like forms. In this way, they have lived for centuries and millennia, vital to the health of the forest ecosystems where they grow.

The cover for our second issue, titled Bristlecones Turn Inwards to Grow, is by the Community of Scholars Program (COSP) Scholar, Emily Mitamura. Bristlecone pines reflect our COSP community where embodied resilience and fierce beauty intertwine to produce vibrant scholarship. Rooted in SPARK’s values of social justice, community building, innovation, creativity, and public scholarship, Mitamura’s piece foregrounds the deep self reflection, inner growth, and lived experiences our contributors reveal in their pieces. 

What’s in This Issue

Truth-telling and social justice for Indigenous peoples is at the heart of TRUTH: Parts I & II. As graduate leaders in the Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing (TRUTH) Project, An Garagiola and Audrianna Goodwin challenge readers to reflect deeply on the origins of the University of Minnesota as a land-grant institution. TRUTH: Part I provides a historical context of the ways the University of Minnesota acquired tribal lands and profited from the dispossession of Indigenous peoples in the founding of the institution. TRUTH: Part II provides a reflection on their work as Anishinaabikwewag graduate researchers for the TRUTH Project. Entering into the cavernous archives held at Elmer library, Garagiola and Goodwin emerge to discuss issues around recognition of past harms, ongoing violences perpetrated against Indigenous peoples, data sovereignty, and the future possibilities for University of Minnesota-Tribal relations. 

Hannah Jo King’s chapbook, Poems in Black Water Ecologies, draws from the personal and political. Inspired by King’s experiences with Indigenous land rights and water activism, and a constellation of Black Feminist Thought, King’s tactile and embodied poetry explores the relationship between Black life and Water.    

Sean Golden’s piece, The Practice of Nonviolent Editing, offers compelling insights into the ways nonviolent editing shows up in his practice as a SPARK editor working with BIPOC writers. Focusing on the ways nonviolent editing resists the extractive nature of predominantly white institutions and language toward BIPOC knowledge, Golden’s essay provides a jumping off point to discuss the ways the editing process can build community, collaboration, and nourishment for BIPOC writers publishing their work.     

Nisma Elias’s piece, I’ll Meet You Where You Are: Research During a Pandemic, offers a reflection on the ways the coronavirus pandemic disrupted data collection for her doctoral research on private tutoring centers in Bangladesh. Moving between her pre-pandemic field notes in Bangladesh to the virtual space of the Zoom classroom setting, Elias speaks to the range of emotions and re-envisioning she underwent to adapt and succeed as a researcher during the pandemic.   

Bobby Kava’s piece, Some Kind of Monster, uses Victor Turner’s concept of liminality, the state of in-between-ness, and the figure of the “monster” to explore key stages during his life journey. Addressing Kava’s multiple experiences as a Tongan-Samoan, an American military commander deployed to the Middle East, and his present-day life as an MBA student at the Carlson School of Management, Kava explores how embracing the challenge of liminality can open a door to strength, self-renewal, and freedom.

Visual storytelling and public scholarship intersect in Teresa Mccarrell’s graphic comic, Astrobiological Analogues: Take a Tour of the Solar System Without Leaving Earth! In her piece, Mccarrell depicts the world of astrobiological analogues, the study of how certain sites on Earth resemble life on other planets in our solar system, revealing how biological microbial signatures found at different geological sites on Earth offer potential clues about life on other planets.  

We hope you enjoy this issue!

Acknowledgements: 

The creation and development of the second issue of SPARK is made possible in part with generous support from the Minnesota Humanities Center; the dedication of the SPARK Editorial Board; Molly Schwartz for the beautiful design and layout of SPARK; Dr. Cori-Bazemore James; the Graduate School Diversity Office; the Graduate School; and lastly, the COSP Scholars who trusted SPARK and the editorial board with their research and writing to enrich our community.