Five Questions with First-Years Returns! An Interview with Coyote Shook

It’s October, which means it’s time to introduce the newest cohort of UT AMS doctoral students! We asked all five incoming students about their academic backgrounds, their intellectual interests, and projects they plan to pursue here at UT. Today we bring you Coyote Shook. Coyote comes to UT with a background in Gender Studies and research interests in comics, the American Spiritualist movement, and death/dying (but Coyote promises that they’re an “otherwise normal person.”) Read on to learn more about Coyote and their plans as a doctoral student UT!2AAAABE0-9EE4-4EED-9216-BEE473E90920

What is your background, academic or otherwise, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?

I did most of my undergraduate research in American Studies (particularly looking at death and dying in Civil War culture). I went to Wisconsin for an MA in Gender Studies where I researched prosthetic limb fundraisers after the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888. It was during this time that I started to experiment with comics as a medium for presenting research. It stuck. Outside of the academic world, I was a high school English teacher for three years and completed a Fulbright in Poland in 2014-2015.

Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work?

The department offered me the one thing I can’t resist: funding. In all seriousness, I appreciated the supportive tone from faculty during the application process. They seemed genuinely curious and engaged with the concept of comics as research in a way that no other department quite matched. I felt this was a space where I could be challenged as a student, but also grow as a scholar who uses nontraditional mediums for research purposes. Plus I was drawn to Austin’s alluring margarita culture.

What projects or people have inspired your work?

I draw very heavily from queer/crip historians and scholars. Alison Kafer, Eli Clare, Ellen Samuels, Jasbir Puar, and Lee Edelman have all been really influential on my work. I also draw a lot from Marxist feminists and labor theorists such as Heidi Hartmaan, Lauren Berlant, and Sylvia Federici.

In terms of projects, I’m really drawn to cartoonists who have used creative nonfiction. Cartoonists who inspire my work include Lynda Barry, Isabel Greenberg, Allison Bechdel, David Small, Edward Gorey, Art Spiegelman, Tove Jansson, and Joe Sacco.

What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?

I’m currently focusing on the American Spiritualist movement and its intersections with disability and dark tourism. I’m currently working on research about diet and food in spiritualist culture and seances. I’m also working on a paper about Mary Todd Lincoln’s relationship with spiritualism and her transgressions in Victorian grief culture that contributed to the sexist and ableist caricature we are left with in modern representations. Honestly, my research since I was in undergrad has focused on sickness and death, so I’d be surprised if it deviates from that. However, I’d like to emphasize that I’m an otherwise normal person who just happens to have macabre research tastes.

What are your goals for graduate school? What do you see yourself doing after you graduate?

I plan on marrying a very, very rich man and not worrying about future employment.

Also, if that doesn’t work, probably museum work around public history education and history curriculum design for public schools. But I really, really need option A to pan out.

Bonus Question: In your own words, what is American Studies?

American Studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines history and culture in the United States and/or the impact of American empire on global events…y’know what? I’m gonna just stop myself there. I fail.

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