New grant to support Dickens Project programming in year ahead

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The Dickens Project will resume Litlabs, a college prep program for students in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program at the Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles. In 2020, students studied David Copperfield. 
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The Dickens Project, a multi-campus research unit headquartered at UC Santa Cruz and focused on the study of 19th-century Anglophone literature and culture, was recently awarded a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) in support of its 2022 programs.

“We’re thrilled to receive this NEH grant, which allows us to continue our community outreach work despite the financial uncertainties of the pandemic,” says Renée Fox, co-director of the Dickens Project and PI on the grant. “Our programming in 2022 is focused on questions of race and social justice in the 19th century and today, so support from the NEH for these programs is particularly meaningful to us."

The NEH grant will be used to sustain a busy 2022 for the Dickens Project. Next summer will see the return of The Dickens Universe, a week-long cultural event that combines aspects of a scholarly conference, a festival, a book club, and summer camp, all focused on a pair of novels from the 19th century: Dickens’ 1850 work David Copperfield, and Frances E.W. Harper’s 1892 Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, one of the first novels published by a female African-American writer.

In years’ past, the Dickens Universe has concentrated on one Dickens novel or a pair of books by British authors, but in 2022 the Universe broadens its purview by pairing a British novel with an African-American novel. Pairing these two novels will help participants expand their understanding of 19th-century culture and will invite conversations about race both in 19th-century fiction and in our current era.The immersive Universe experience, taking place throughout the UC Santa Cruz campus, will include discussions of the books, performances, film screenings, and more.

In addition, the Dickens Project will be resuming two high school programs in 2022, both of which were curtailed by the ongoing pandemic. One program, Litlabs, is a college prep program for students in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program at the Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles. LitLabs are interdisciplinary teaching modules that introduce NAI seniors to 19th-century novels through creative projects that re-imagine the worlds of those novels in terms of 21st-century life in L.A. At the end of the school year, the Dickens Project brings four students and two NAI instructors to the Dickens Universe to present their projects and enjoy the event.

The other program, A Dickens Day of Writing, combines lesson plans and an essay-writing event for Santa Cruz County high schools in order to help students reflect on social issues in their communities via 19th-century literature. Working with teachers in Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, the program uses Dickens’s essay “Night Walks” to spark discussion on the issues of houselessness and poverty in Santa Cruz. The ongoing class discussions and writing assignments will culminate in a Day of Writing that brings together participating students and the Dickens Project community for a day of essay-writing and mentorship. Winning essay writers and their teachers will be awarded scholarships to the 2022 Dickens Universe.

“Across its 41-year history, the Dickens Project has always been devoted both to scholarly research and to community engagement,” says John Jordan, director of the Dickens Project. “The programs we’ve organized for 2022 will introduce many new readers to the world of 19th-century literature, and we’re excited by the ways the Project is expanding."