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UA Alumni - Shaden Khoury

Shaden was the Africa and Middle East Regional Winner of the Literature category in 2021.

Since she was awarded, Shaden has graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and Political Science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
She is currently completing her M.A in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

What are you doing now and what has happened since the award?

I currently live in New York City and entering my final semester in my M.A. program at Columbia University. I am also a Research Assistant at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) at Columbia University, creating an oral history on newly acquired photo collection of the Beat poets and movement.

Since the award, I have worked as a Programs Manager at an NGO called “Mindfulness in Arabic” which facilitates mindfulness tools to Arabic-speaking refugees and displaced people. I have also worked as a Research Assistant at Tel Aviv University at the Department of Political Science, doing research on Israeli policy and its effect on Palestinian culture and literature.

Where do your interests lie?

As an Arab woman, I hold a nuanced position in the world. However, as an Arab woman in Israel, that position is made more complex and nuanced, not only in terms of how I am perceived by the world, but also in how I perceive myself in relation to the world around me.

When I started my B.A., I didn’t really feel like any one specific topic drew me to a point where I felt I could centre my entire future around it – I had fun analysing Shakespearean female characters and their portrayal in plays, but it was never something I saw myself doing for a long time. During my third year, I took a course wherein we read poetry written by African Americans, and I felt myself drawn specifically to the poetry of African American women.

Soon enough, I started reading more about African American history and literature, intersectionality, and Black feminism. I felt incredibly drawn to the topic. I decided to write my B.A. thesis on the intersectionality of race and gender in African American women’s poetry during the Harlem Renaissance (which is the topic of the paper I submitted to the UA). It was so interesting to read and write about this topic, that I decided that I want to pursue it in my future studies.

I am currently doing my M.A. at Columbia University and hoping to write my thesis on the intersectionality of race and gender, now focusing on prose rather than poetry, specifically two novels by Gayl Jones and how that intrinsic relationship between race and gender is represented through the structure of a Blues song. After I graduate, I am hoping to pursue a PhD on the same intersectionality in both African American and Palestinian literature written by women.

What do you like the most about what you do?

The fact that I get to further my academic and professional interests is extremely fulfilling and doing it at Columbia University has been an incredible experience.

Have you done something fun/weird?

I would say that moving halfway across the globe to NYC has been extremely fun. I have made some incredible new friends and connections. It hasn’t all been easy, but it has all been worth it, and I am proud and grateful to be here.

How was your experience as an undergraduate student?

Being an undergraduate student was not easy at all. I had my issues mostly with confidence – I didn’t think that I was smart enough or capable enough to even graduate, but thanks to my family and friends, I stayed focused and motivated to do my best. Eventually, I started believing in my capabilities and intelligence and gained more confidence.

Has receiving an award for your hard work helped?

Receiving the award came as a surprise, especially because I had forgotten that I had submitted my work to the Undergraduate Awards. It was in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown, and I was preoccupied with applying to grad schools.

When I submitted, I didn’t think anyone would even read my paper, but receiving the award has been an incredible confidence boost and has played a role in making me believe that my work is not only interesting but also well-written enough to be published.

I believe that winning this award has been a great help in getting to where I am now in terms of how it looks on my CV. When applying for jobs, this achievement has impressed employers – specifically in the field of academia where being published is highly regarded. I also believe that it has helped me with being accepted into Columbia University, as they look for people who have the potential to be published.

Why should students submit their work?

Try. Even if you think you will fail, try. One thing I learned during my undergraduate degree, as well as winning these awards, is that you have nothing to lose by trying. If there’s an internship you’re interested in, apply for it; if there’s a competition you want to enter, submit your work.

Worst case scenario, you don’t succeed, and you continue with your life as it was. Best case scenario, you win that award or get that job, and your life becomes more enriched. This may sound like a cliché, but I say it in all seriousness and from experience with letting fear of failure win: don’t let your fear of failure stop you from doing things.