Professor Nishant Upadhyay wins the 2018 First Book Prize

By Contributing Writer Celine Gomes.

It was a typical Friday morning.

Professor Nishant Upadhyay rose with the usual intent to prepare for their classes at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Their phone buzzed around eight. As their eyes slowly began to adjust to the light coming from their phone screen, an email came into focus. Sleepily, they dismissed the news.

It couldn’t be right. So they continued with their daily routine and made their way to the kitchen for coffee.

After a few long sips, Upadhyay checked the email once again and their eyes widened in disbelief.

They read the email twenty times over. Upadhyay had just won an award.

On September 28, the University of Illinois Press emailed Upadhyay awarding them with the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association and the University of Illinois Press First Book Prize for their manuscript, Indians on Indian Land: Intersections of Race, Caste, and Indigeneity. Upadhyay drew from their experiences being Canada-born and India-raised to explore Indian diasporic communities in Canada and their relations to Indigenous people in Canada.

“My experiences as a person of color in the United States and Canada are very different from those of most students of color here,” said Upadhyay, “but all universities in the U.S. and Canada are super white and they privilege students who come from social-economic capital, so often a lot of students of color, queer, trans, gender non-conforming, women, poor, and disabled students don’t feel these are their spaces. But these are our spaces.”

In their citation, the National Women’s Studies Association Committee and the University of Illinois Press admired how Upadhyay’s manuscript was “a remarkable instance of how feminist scholarship advances non-disciplinary thought and practice by holding anti-settler colonialism, anti-Blackness and anti-caste analytics together, whilst making a contribution to postcolonial studies, transnational feminism, and South Asian diaspora studies.”

Their appreciation of Upadhyay’s manuscript earned them $500, an advanced book contract with the University of Illinois Press, and a formal recognition of their accomplishment at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Atlanta in November.

Upadhyay told me that they were already going to the conference to present a paper before the award and they were especially excited because they had never been to Atlanta before.

Upadhyay currently teaches Women’s and Gender Studies courses at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Yet, they did not know their years of education would lead them here. They had no prior education in Women’s and Gender Studies.

“It’s kind of random that I ended up teaching in Women’s and Gender Studies,” said Upadhyay, “but not so random because my work deeply engages with feminist, queer, and trans scholarship.”

“During class, they really take their time to help us understand feminism; I legitimately leave class feeling inspired,” said student Jeovana Almeida from their spring 2018 class.

Upadhyay’s story can serve as an inspiration to young minorities.

“I want students of color, especially women, queer and trans students of color, to feel like we belong and we should belong here,” said Upadhyay.

“Whatever we have to say, think, or write is important for others to learn, and to hear,” they continued. “It’s important for us, it’s important for the communities we come from, it’s important for the people who are in the majority or are more privileged to hear what our stories are, and we should not feel dejected by being here.”

What’s next for Upadhyay?

“I have to write the book now,” they say.

Upadhyay urges students to “continue to do the work you want to do and bring the change.”

Photo Courtesy: Nishant Upadhyay

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