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Alumnus Spotlight on Ryan Topper

From Pocatello, Idaho to Leeds, England, English graduate Ryan Topper is traveling the globe working with different groups to learn more about trauma in African literature.

Alumnus Spotlight on Ryan Topper

From Pocatello, Idaho to Leeds, England, English graduate Ryan Topper is traveling the globe working with different groups to learn more about trauma in African literature. Topper graduated from ISU with a Master of Arts degree and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Leeds. The past year was busy for Topper as he taught interdisciplinary courses for the University of Leeds Centre for African Studies, directed a symposium in South Africa, participated in numerous conferences and workshops and published multiple book reviews.

In his final year at the University of Leeds, Topper is finishing his dissertation on trauma in African literature. He is interested in the relation between theories of trauma in continental philosophy and the poetics of trauma in African literature.

“This research inevitably raises questions of social justice, which I pursue both inside and outside the walls of traditional academia,” he said. “Put simply, social justice is not separate from my research, but an integral part of the questions I ask of literature.”

Topper started teaching interdisciplinary elective courses for the Centre for African Studies at the University of Leeds. The course “Contemporary Africas” focuses on current social, political and environmental issues throughout African contexts, and “Creative Africas” focuses on African arts and culture, including literature, sculpture and cinema. Topper said his goals for teaching at the Centre for African Studies have been simple.

“First, I want to learn. Teaching interdisciplinary courses challenges you not only to read beyond your expertise, but to translate your expertise into approachable terms,” he said. “Second, I want my students to learn. I like to challenge them to think critically about how they interpret the social and aesthetic texts under discussion. My goal is not to diversify the curriculum, but to decolonize the mind.”

In September, Topper organized and directed a symposium at the Holocaust and Genocide Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa titled, “Interpreting Violence and Trauma in Africa.” Topper’s motivation for the symposium was to provide a space for South African researchers, students, activists and artists to discuss and debate their work on the topic, and to learn for his own research. Topper said the symposium, which included experts in law, clinical and social psychology, literature, history and arts, was a success, and he hopes the conversation opened will continue.  

Topper said his degree from ISU helped lay the foundation for his career path in academia, and helped train him in literary criticism and critical pedagogy.

“ISU’s small graduate program in English ensured that I received time, feedback and overall mentorship from professors who wanted to see me succeed,” Topper said. “My two years of reading, writing and teaching in the Department of English and Philosophy laid a foundation for what I hope to be a career path toward a professorship.” 

Next on Topper’s list is interning with Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide in March and April. He will be based in Kigali helping with English language writing and editing. For example, he will be working on speeches during the nation’s official week of mourning and translations of Gacaca Court hearings, which is a traditional form of communal justice adapted and utilized throughout the country after the genocide.

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