Thoughts on the benefits of book manuscript workshopping
A few months ago, I finalized my first draft of my book manuscript - all 350 pages of it. It was part of my NEH grant objectives, wrapping up some loose ends that I have been working on since my dissertation. At the top of those were addressing concepts of faith in research, Diné metaphysics in everyday life, and my role as the 2018 Miss Navajo Butchering Event Coordinator. I am lucky to have networked and found a group a great scholars who are very well-attuned to the areas I write in and luckily for me, they were gracious to invite me up to their home at the University of Washington. Once there, I would meet with graduate students and faculty, offer a presentation related to one of my chapters, and then workshop the manuscript with a group of scholars interested in my topics. No biggie, right?
Before I arrived - my manuscript made a pathway for me. The workshoppers would read it in all its spelling, grammar, and Chicago citation errors. I was excited and nervous for the feedback. What if it sucked? echoed in the back of my head, although I knew it is one hell of a manuscript. But I had questions about certain themes and non-chronological presentation. And of course, what if my writing is too honest? also hung around in my mind. Honesty - its a completely subjective trait but it is my most defining quality. I know that not all agree with it or appreciate it. But this manuscript, however, holds that honesty lens on myself -- a multispecies auto ethnography with sheep as the evaluator.
The night I arrived - I had dinner with Jose Antonio Lucero, MaríaElena Garcia, and their son. A welcoming of spicy foods that I have soo missed since having toddlers who opt out of the dichíí. It was also homecoming dinner in some fashion for my project. Tony was there at the very beginning of my dissertation's journey - back when I was still trying to find my voice in academia, when I felt like no one would want my work, that no one would want me. But Tony and the 2011 Social Science Research Council Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship Global Indigenous Politics Cohort did... From that space, I met a powerful group of scholars, Indigenous and allies, many of whom have become my people - the ones I turn to and those who turn to me. Included in that group is MaríaElena, who would eventually become part of my dissertation committee, guiding me in the areas of Indigenous experiences co-existing with nonhuman animals. It had been 11 years since our last meeting - and while our stories showed the passing of time, our meal together was as effortless as if it had been 11 months.
My presentation went off without a problem - it was great being in front of a crowd again. It was something that I missed since COVID set in. In the seats where scholars who I had intellectually grown up through, including Dr. Charlotte Coté! I wish I got a photo 🤣🤦🏽♀️. There were was also a fellow Aggie - Dr. Joshua Reid whose recent work is now informing my own. Missed my photo opt there too. 🤣🤦🏽♀️ Now that I think of it.... I missed all photo opts unless it was of food or the weather...🤣🤦🏽♀️ By the way.... I missed dining out... the food in Seattle - all the shell fish- it was AMAZING! But back to business.
In the group there were Native American Studies scholars, literary scholars, political science scholars, animal studies scholars, performance studies scholars, geography scholars, and friends. Radhika Govindrajan, who I had admired since one of my SSRC Global Politics cohort members introduced me to her work and who had also met with me during the start of my sabbatical, joined the table via zoom. I was astonished by the people who took the time to read me - some of them coming in from their own sabbatical to chat about this project. There were even graduate students who joined in, not merely in presence but also in voice!
I didn't know what I would take away from the meeting before we started, but looking back in hindsight, this is what I can tell you:
They helped me to see my overarching picture and end game that I, myself, was couldn't quite see from up close. They had me talk out where I had loose ends. Despite not being weavers, they could feel how I spoke of weaving and broken warps and they forced me to put names to those broken warps. In that theoretical framework, they encouraged me to embrace the messiness of the interventions that I have to make in Native American Studies, animal studies, Diné studies, history, anthropology, and academic writing in general. The honesty that I was afraid to share, they found comforting, even in my personal writings of loss, both human and nonhuman animals lives that have shaped me. That was the most shocking for me of the workshop- how the deaths in my writings came through. While the project focuses on sheep deaths, I didn't realize that I wrote so heavily about the death of my brother, of my grandparents, of sheep, and of mountain sheep as movements in my life that I had to overcome. But it was the first thing that the group brought up... condolences and gratitude for sharing those intimacies - intimacies that are part of our every day life now - opioid wars, becoming an elder as our grandparents move on into the next world, picking up stewardship responsibilities because our animals have chosen us. It was a lot to take in, a lot of voices and opinons - and I wrote down as much as I could in a newly christened writing journal that had been just gifted to me by the organizers of the group of MaríaElena, Tony, Josh and Radhika.
Sitting in the airport, taking the last of my meals without my boys, I set up my laptop to write emails of gratitude - here is what I have to say to each one of those individuals who are committed to helping other scholars grow... not just me -- but all those they can.
Boarding the plane back to Albuquerque, my boots now have dust from a different field that I bring home to my field.
In short, if you ever have an opportunity to workshop your book manuscript - DO IT. Sure, it might be a plane ride and a few time zones away. But you may just come home with corn seeds from fields that you didn't know you needed.
Just a Tách'inii thinking out loud about butchering, researching, manuscript writing, and life on the Navajo reservation.