Student Profile: Jennifer Celestin

Jennifer answers the Draper Dozen.

1. When did you start at Draper?
I started at Draper in the Fall 2010

2. Are you a full or part-time student?
I am a Full-Time student

3. Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. My parents are Haitian immigrants so I spent many summers and winter holidays in Haiti.

4. What are your primary research interests?
I am interested in the construction of transnational identities and the mediation or expression of identity through language. I particularly look at the work of Haitian-American writer, Edwidge Danticat and her use of English, Haitian Creole, and French in a single text.

5. Why did you choose to pursue an interdisciplinary degree at Draper?
I had originally applied for an MFA in fiction where I would work on material that employed the use of code-switching (the use of more than one language in a single exchange). I was instead referred to Draper and found that this interdisciplinary degree provided me with more academic freedom to flesh out my burgeoning ideas on Haitian-American identities.

6. What do you plan to do after Draper?
I want to be working on a novel and teaching undergraduates as an instructor; acceptance into a fully funded MFA programs would allow me to do both.

7. Do you have any special activities or projects outside of your academic work?
I am a performance poet and have performed at the Brooklyn Museum, Brecht Forum, La Mama Experimental Theatre, the Bowery, and El Museo del Barrio. I was a featured storyteller at the Bridge Culture Summer series in 2010. I have done voice-over work for museums exhibits on Caribbean History and through the help of the Haiti Cultural Exchange I have been able to work as a teaching artist with bilingual children, encouraging them to write poems in their native language.

I am happy to share that I have been accepted into a delegation of artists, mental health specialists, and organizers for the Ayiti Resurrect Project. I will be going to Haiti in January 2012 to help victims of the 2010 earthquake find expression and healing through poetry.

8. How does living and studying in New York impact your educational experience?
I went to Wesleyan University located in Middletown, Ct for my bachelor’s degree. It was far from my family and there were few local distractions. It was an ideal place for serious study. Some of us on campus even called it a bubble. Now, as a graduate student I am living outside that bubble and feeling the pressures that ‘real’ life can impose upon you even when there’s an assignment due. It has helped to give me the perspective and discipline I will need if I plan on being a novelist in the future. I make the hard choices to stay in and work on my material even when tempted to unwind with family and friends.

Being home in New York also allows me to stay close to my Haitian community. New York has one of the largest Haitian immigrant populations in the US and staying close to my community keeps my work and my voice relevant and fresh.

9. Is there any one place (museum, library, shop, park, etc.) in New York that is your favorite? Why?
Peppa’s Jerk Chicken Spot on the corner of Woodruff and Flatbush Ave. It is open all night long! The food is amazing and I can count on it if I’m up late writing or coming in from a night out.

10. Coffee or tea?
Coffee. I love the bold, chocolaty flavor. I have to monitor my intake though because if not I will talk your ear off while attempting to do pushups.

11. Are you a fan and/or user of social media? Why or why not?
I am a user of social media but wouldn’t really call myself a fan. I’m happy we have ways of staying connected but find our dependence on them disconcerting. The entire way that we interact with each other (and ourselves) has changed. I find myself having a thought while walking to the train and thinking, “I’ll have to post that onto facebook.” No, I don’t have to do anything. It has weaved its way into our thought process and everyday life. I will say that I am a longtime fan of Beyonce and my friends might find my unwavering support for her more unsettling than facebook.

12. What was the last book you read for fun (not for class or research)?
I am in the unique position where most of the books I read now bring me pleasure and are related to my research. But I have a feeling that you really want me to tell you about the last book I devoured before entering grad school: Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn.

13. If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I would still be performing poems and facilitating creative writing workshops but my day job would be different. Before I entered NYU I was working as an advocate counselor at a transfer high school with a community-based organization. If I did not get into graduate school I would probably look into becoming a guidance counselor and work with the Department of Education.

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