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Surfacing untold histories

It isn’t every month in the life of an academic that one discovers they’ve been awarded three prestigious fellowships. But earlier this year, Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, professor of English and Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, and a Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship. “It was a pretty exciting several weeks,” says Gerzina, who will use the time and money to write her next book.

“This project is one I’ve been working on for a number of years, and I’ve applied for grants and never got one for it,” says Gerzina. “Then, I thought, well, I’ll try one last time.” As it turns out, that last time was the right time. A surge of interest in Black history propelled her 1995 book Black England: A Forgotten Georgian History to be reissued in 2022 with a new foreword from Zadie Smith. “Suddenly, it was time again. So they brought the book back, and I think that’s what led to the grants.”

Her next book, tentatively titled The Black Wife, will look at Black women in Britain from the Tudor period onward, examining what their lives were like compared to how they were represented in the popular culture of the time. “It’s just sort of quiet stories that I think will shed some light on what it was really like to live there,” says Gerzina.



Trajectory of a teacher

Ana Traversa ’95MA opens doors for ESL speakers

Sommer Browning

“My first-grade teacher asked everyone to whisper in her ear what we wanted to be when we grew up,” says Ana Traversa ’95MA. “I whispered teacher.” True to her ambition, Traversa went on to study English in her native Argentina and eventually became a teacher. A six-week English exchange program brought her to UMass in 1990, but just before she was to return home, she was offered a scholarship to the master’s degree program. In 1992, she enrolled as the first Latin American student in the graduate English program. She was 29.

Particularly memorable for Traversa were the courses she took with Peter Elbow, Anne Herrington, and Charles Moran that would change the trajectory of her career. When she returned to Argentina, she integrated their new process writing and portfolio assessment pedagogy into the curricula at Universidad de Buenos Aires and Universidad CAECE.

On a whim, in 2006 Traversa applied for a job with the Educational Testing Service (ETS). She was asked questions about the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), an exam that measures international students’ English language skills. Much to her surprise, she got the job—and has developed content for ETS language tests since.

Traversa’s passion for teaching has impacted the lives of thousands of students. What has she discovered along the way? “Learning is about much more than formal education,” she says. “It’s about growing together.”

Hear Traversa tell her own story: