We began our work a semester into our freshman year. Having met one another over Zoom in the midst of the pandemic during our first semester of college, we were brought together by our shared passions, frustrations, classes, and curiosity. In the Fall of 2020, we took a class entitled English 182: Race, Labor, and Incarceration with Professor Ingrid Diran at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our class encouraged us to view incarceration as a state of being rather than a location, to distinguish between institutional form and function of practices, and to question what we take as “the absolute” about social institutions. Having spent a semester becoming conscious of harm all around us, we were left asking: “What Now?”
By the end of freshman year, our questions and desire to combat the pervasive harms of the carceral state led us both to embark on a research project entitled “An Ecological Approach to Abolition: A Holistic Analysis of Discrimination Systems.” Our project aimed to map out the ecology of an interconnected and intentionally designed carceral state. Thanks to funding and support from UW-Madison, we were then able to conduct this project over the Summer of 2021 and map out a pervasive pattern of perspectives, policies, and practices we labeled as “carceral dimensions.” By this point, we had shared tattoos, tears, late night “ah-ha” moments, and poured hours trying to understand how and why our status quo functioned the way it does.
Moving into Fall 2021, our project evolved into “Conversations About the Carceral State,” an attempt to move forward from our findings toward productive forms of abolitionist praxis. We found ourselves unable to engage with others and limited in vocabulary, emotional capacity, and patience. Despite the “stall” of an expected linear progression, we turned our attention to pedagogy. We shadowed lectures and drafted lesson plans, and by the Spring of 2022, we were piloting a test study group.
Suddenly it became clear that abolition is not a destination, but a methodology: a way of being and acting. The Spring and Summer of 2022 were spent trying to act and see the world as abolitionists while trying to expand our shared care with others in our community. We wrote—a lot. About everything. We took notes in classes, protests, and conversations. We wrote mini-papers on movies, new albums, fashion, and reality TV. Viewing the world from an abolitionist lens, we began to question the narrative impacts and externalities of both policy and forms of protest. Simultaneously, we worked to continue our learning process by learning from others by facilitating discussions and developing a curriculum.
In May of 2022, we decided to define Abolition as “Asking Why?” and “Dreaming of more.” Viewing Abolition as a praxis of curiosity, creativity, care, and imagination, we realized we wanted to share our work in a way that embodies our mission. The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism existed well before any of this, and we are honored to be allowed to highlight how its institutional form was implicitly abolitionist, as we now use it for the function of bringing together activists and artists. We believe that today, more than ever, narrative literacy and artistic imagination are skills required by everybody to not only push for an abolitionist world but to navigate the harms of the world as it exists presently. The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism once served the purpose of showcasing academic papers that analyzed and critiqued texts, showcasing the brightest minds from our campus. Today, we hope to function the same way.
Literary criticism is criticism of narratives we have been fed. It is providing alternatives and suggestions. It is a methodology that allows young scholars to engage with what frustrates them. Ultimately, it is asking why and then dreaming of more.
Today, as co-editor in chiefs of this journal, we invite everybody to join us. To ask questions. To dream big. To care for one another. Doing this can be done in the format of academic papers, but also poetry, philosophy, prose, photography, op-eds, journalism, paintings, and so much more.
In the Fall of 2022, we are transitioning the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism to serve primarily as a study group. One where we serve the role as facilitators and our research acts as the background for developing a curriculum. Our study group will engage in social and literary criticism, while simultaneously serving as an editorial committee that examines art.
Art has always been abolitionist. We hope to sit back and bring together activist stakeholders, students, artists, and dreamers in a coalition that ultimately produces a magazine composed of both submissions and staff pieces.
We would like to thank Professor Diran, our university, and all of you. With this support, with this shared care, we hope to continue cultivating our own consciousness while transitioning our work into an educational and artistic setting.
Ria and Anna
You can access our research and educator toolkits here!