Natania Meeker

Photo by: Ziva Santop/ Steve Cohn Photography
Photo by: Ziva Santop/ Steve Cohn Photography

USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

It is a huge honor to receive this award. I owe my career to the generosity of great mentors who do not necessarily think of themselves as such, but who understand intellectual life and work as entailing a responsibility not just to those who came before— the thinkers and writers who inspire us—but to those who come after—the young scholars who challenge us to think otherwise, and to reexamine what we think we have understood.

My work with graduate students regularly gives me the chance to remember what I love about my job and what drew me to a career in the humanities in the first place—namely, the joy of scholarly inquiry as an opportunity to see the world, present and past, in a fundamentally new light. Good mentoring means, as I understand it, helping students see their work not just as an individual occasion to shine, but as part of a larger history of intellectual exchange—built out of moments of invention and revision, discovery and forgetting—that will, at best, outlast both student and advisor. At the same time, a mentor can help humanize a process that sometimes seems to take on inhuman dimensions, and model for students what it means to enjoy the act of writing, or the work of thinking, even at moments when the pains seem to outweigh the pleasures.

This award is, for me, a mark of the great generosity of my students.