There are some students whose names you hear over and over, even if you’ve never taught them: Sara Kannan is one of those students. Read on to find out why we all know of her, how she made her co-op degree work for her, and how she is giving back to the department. Thank you to Sara for participating in Words in Place! –JLH
JLH: What made you decide to attend UWaterloo?
SK: It’s actually a pretty great story – I was born in Canada but moved to the U.S. as a child and grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. During Grade 12, I focused on applying to U.S. universities in the northeast so that I could be between my parents and my maternal grandparents in Waterloo, who I’m very close with. I never considered applying to university in Canada because I did all my schooling in the U.S., from Grades 1 to 12, and because all of my friends were also going to university in the same area. During spring break, I visited my first choice school in New York (on the way to Waterloo) and found that it wasn’t what I expected. We finished the week by visiting my grandparents in Waterloo, who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s because my grandfather was offered a professorship in the Pure Mathematics Department at UWaterloo. With my grandfather as a professor emeritus and all five of his children (including my mom) as UWaterloo alumni, I was persuaded to at least visit UWaterloo before ruling it out. I went on a campus tour and immediately fell in love – I was so sure that I wanted to attend UWaterloo that I actually declined all my acceptance offers to U.S. universities before applying to UWaterloo!
JLH: How important was the co-op stream to you in thinking about your potential future career?
SK: Co-op was essential to my career path. I initially applied to the co-op stream with the comfort of knowing that I could always change my mind later, but ended up completing four co-op terms. The skills and experience I gained in going through the job application process and working in a professional setting were invaluable and highly transferable. Additionally, I was able to try out several different jobs to find what I liked and what wasn’t a good fit for me, which helped me focus my efforts when applying for a full-time job post-graduation. Having about 1.5 years of full-time, professional experience in various jobs related to my degree (before I even graduated!) was absolutely necessary to finding a job in the “real world.”
JLH: Some people will know your name from our posts on awards ceremonies: you received numerous awards from the English department, including the Albert Shaw Poetry Prize, Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award, English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose, Quarry Integrated Communication Co-op Award, and others. Can you talk a bit about how those were important to you?
SK: Honestly, winning those awards meant the world to me. To receive tangible evidence in recognition of my writing abilities, from my professors and in front of my peers, really validated my confidence in my skills and the worth of my degree. I’ve known that I would be a writer since I was 6 years old, but not everyone has been supportive or encouraging. Winning these awards almost every year felt like proof that my lifelong dreams could become reality – some of them, at least (I don’t think that I’ll end up a princess, but hey, it happened to Meghan Markle!).
JLH: Fewer people might know that you decided to fund an award, and quite soon after graduating. What made this a logical choice to you?
SK: I became very passionate about postcolonialism during my time at UWaterloo, taking postcolonial literature classes and bringing postcolonialism into traditional literature/rhetoric classes. I started writing about things like magical realism as a method of resistance in understanding the Haitian Revolution or the Dreaming as a way for Aboriginal Australians to displace colonizers, but quickly noticed that my essays didn’t fit into any of the existing awards categories and couldn’t be submitted. Since winning awards was very important to me personally and professionally as an undergraduate student, I wanted to give back to the English Department and future students by filling the void.
Once I was no longer eligible to receive awards and in a position to pay it forward, I collaborated with the English Department and Sherri Sutherland from Arts Advancement to establish and sponsor the annual Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize. To me, the significance of this award lies in recognizing the importance, relevance, and pervasiveness of diaspora, transnational, and postcolonial topics – topics that are increasingly acknowledged, studied, and explored through a variety of methods and mediums, in an effort to understand our world and the people in it. My goal was to make the award as inclusive as possible to reflect the nature of postcolonial studies, opening submissions to essays and projects submitted by any student or professor, as long as it is related to postcolonial studies (which can be very broadly interpreted).
JLH: If you were to imagine your dream course in postcolonial literature, what texts would be on it?
SK: That’s a really difficult question, because so many texts (not just literature!) can be interpreted as postcolonial. I think the three most important books to establish the framework of postcolonialism as a literary theory are Orientalism by Edward Said (who is considered the founder of postcolonial studies); The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin; and Decolonizing the Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. From the classes that I took at UWaterloo, my favourite texts to analyze were Frida Kahlo’s paintings, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Spanish flamenco music.
At its heart, postcolonialism is about intersectionality (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.) through the lens of historical imperial-colonial power struggles. Almost any text post-contact can be analyzed for these influences – I challenge everyone to find the postcolonial in their favourite text!