story by Claire Miller
College of Education & Human Development alumnus Clarice Thomas (Ph.D. ’18) was one of 10 people nationwide selected for PEN America’s 2021-2022 Writing for Justice Fellowship Program.
This fellowship program supports emerging or established authors as they write pieces “that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate,” according to PEN America’s website.
Thomas is a faculty member at St. Louis University, where she has a dual appointment in the Department of African American Studies and the School of Education and is the director of a program called “Shut It Down” that focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline. Thomas’s research centers the voices of individuals who have experienced incarceration, and her work has been published in numerous journals and presented at international, national and regional conferences. She also facilitates workshops and professional development sessions that create a space to address inequity and injustice in minoritized communities.
As a PEN America Fellow, Thomas will be working with her assigned mentor, zakia henderson-brown, who is a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellow and author of a book of poetry entitled, “What Kind of Omen Am I.” Thomas will focus her fellowship work on writing a book called “Writing Home,” which focuses on her grandfather’s and uncle’s time in the criminal justice system. Her family members’ stories will be part of the book’s broader discussion on how African Americans navigate living in the U.S. with disproportionate rates of arrests, convictions and prison sentences.
“This isn’t a prison song or a book about a family of incarcerated individuals – it’s a bigger story about how we exist in a larger context that dates back to slavery,” she said. “It’s about the right to exist as African Americans in this country without fear of death or oppression.”
To learn more about the fellowship program, visit https://pen.org/writing-justice-2021-2022.