CCU's Athenaeum Press and Arts and Humanities Global Exchange celebrate release of 'Trans/South: Ten Voices of Identity'
by Sara Sobota
The Athenaeum Press and the Arts and Humanities Global Exchange Program (AHGEP) at Coastal Carolina University celebrated the release of the multi-genre project “Trans/South: Ten Voices of Identity” with a panel presentation and reception held in conjunction with Students Advocating Gender Equity (SAGE) on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery.
“Trans/South” is a book and digital installation that explores the complexities surrounding gender identity in the cultural landscape of the South. Creation of the project involved research and interviews with 33 people from around the Carolinas, including trans people, their friends and family, scholars, and policy makers.
The Athenaeum Press is a student-driven, interdisciplinary publishing lab that produces multiple projects per year on regional stories created in innovative genres. AHGEP provides students with transformative experiences regarding global culture, including a Fulbright Speaker Series and a Global Ambassadors program that involves international travel and experiential learning.
The panel presentation, which is held on the national Trans Day of Remembrance, will feature input from community members interviewed in the project as well as student contributors.
Tripthi Pillai, associate professor in the Department of English and director of AHGEP, said the project is designed to facilitate communication and understanding among a variety of populations.
“The fundamental purpose of the project is to present trans individuals’ voices and histories in terms of their personal experiences of being and becoming and, in the process, bring about collaborative projects and thoughtful conversations among trans and non-trans students, faculty, staff, and members of the local and regional community,” said Pillai. “I’m extremely proud of the students’ collaborative and dynamic work.”
Alli Crandell, director of the Athenaeum Press and CCU coordinator of digital initiatives, said the project helps expand the Press’ engagement with lesser-heard voices in the South.
“The Press is always looking for hidden stories that expand our definitions of what it means to be Southern or belong in this region,” said Crandell. “This project showcases some great stories and hopefully gives us a vocabulary to relate to one another along our similarities and respect our differences.”
Shonte Clement, lead designer for the project and digital culture and design major, said the student content and design teams approached the project with thought and care.
“We really wanted it to be sincere and a labor of love,” said Clement. “We wanted to put our best effort forward in representing these stories that are not our own but that we can relate to in some way. We didn’t want to insert our own voices into it; we just wanted to pass the microphone and offer them a platform to tell their own stories, because they know how to tell them better than anyone.”
For James Pulley, part of the design team and graphic design major, determining how to broadcast those voices in words, without the use of photographs, was a challenge.
“The people in the book allowed us to record but not take any pictures, and it’s hard in a context like that, without seeing a person’s face, to connect with them,” said Pulley. “So, we had to solve that problem, and we did it through handwriting.”
Handwritten quotations from interviewees are interspersed throughout the book and on the cover.
Crandell said the experience of creating “Trans/South” was an opportunity for both learning and growth.
“It’s been amazing to see the students evolve their thinking,” said Crandell. “Eight of the ten students don’t identify as trans or nonbinary, so it’s been rewarding helping them navigate the process for respectfully identifying and writing with members of the trans community. The project has made us all better equipped to be allies and advocates, and to understand the unique challenges and opportunities of our region for all gender identities. The students learned to simultaneously hold an audience who might be unfamiliar with trans identities with an audience who has experienced the discrimination and acceptances described in the book firsthand.”
Clement said she hopes the finished product holds meaning for both those represented in it and those who read it.
“I want [participants] to be able to see themselves faithfully represented,” said Clement. “And I hope people who pick it up will read it and share it and say, ‘Oh, there’s a community here. Maybe this is something I should care about.’”
The book can be purchased at the event and, beginning Nov. 20, through the Athenaeum Press website and on Amazon.