MAPH Alumni Profile: Tahneer Oksman

MAPH alumnus Tahneer Oksman is doing wonderful work, and you can read all about it in the profile below!

I went to MAPH because I felt torn between pursuing what I then thought of as the only kind of "writer's life" possible (the life of a novelist; that was as far as my imagination would take me), and an academic life. I was lucky to have had formative encounters with the faculty at U. Chicago, in addition to falling in with a wonderful, small group of friends from my cohort. Three experiences in particular affected my future trajectory: the first was having coffee with Achy Obejas, whose creative writing class was so important to me, and telling her that I didn't know whether to pursue creative writing or academics. Without hesitation, she replied, "Why not do both?" In the meantime, I'd taken a course on trauma ("After great pain") with Lauren Berlant, who introduced me to graphic novels (Joe Sacco's Safe Area Goražde in particular) in an academic context. And in Deborah Nelson's class on postmodern autobiography, I learned for the first time that I could read and write about memoir as a subject. She also introduced me to the work of autobiography scholar and writer Nancy K. Miller, who had been her dissertation advisor and became mine a few years later at CUNY's Graduate Center.

As a PhD student, I eventually brought together what I learned from these experiences, writing my dissertation on autobiographical comics and identity. That's the subject of my first book, "How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?": Women and Jewish American identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs (Columbia University Press, 2016). I also found I could bring some version of my creative writing aspirations into my academic world, especially via journalism and personal essay writing. Being an autobiography scholar, particularly with a focus on visual narrative and the exciting, weird world of comics, has helped me see how many ways there are to play with writing in an academic context, that you can mix up modes and genres to various effects. The MAPH Program was just one year, but looking back it had a tremendous influence on what came next. I'm now going into my sixth year as an Assistant Professor at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, where I teach writing, literature, and journalism courses.

Illustration credit to Liana Finck.