Linda Munk scholarship winner Arianna Guaragna says award will help her devote herself to her studies

March 4, 2024 by Coby Zucker - A&S News

Arianna Guaragna is the 2024 recipient of the Professor Linda Munk Graduate Futures Scholarship, which is awarded each year based on academic merit to a full-time graduate student in English.

“I had to sit down because I thought I was going to faint,” Guaragna says of learning she had received the award. “It was very surreal but such an incredible honour.”

Guaragna, who is going into the second term of her one-year master's degree in English, says the award reaffirms her decision to pursue a master’s and is a recognition she’s capable of doing great things.

“This scholarship means focusing more on my academics and being able to devote myself fully to it,” Guaragna says. “For young scholars, it's hard to remember the work you do is valuable, and you have a lot of potential.”

Receiving the scholarship inspired Guaragna to research Linda Munk, quickly discovering they shared some common ground. Specifically, she noted Munk wrote her dissertation on Emily Dickinson.

“I have my own special connection with a female American poet,” says Guaragna, who is slowly becoming an expert on Maya Angelou. “That was a beautiful parallel I picked up between Dr. Linda Munk and me.”

Arianna Guaragna holding a book.
Arianna Guaragna is pursuing a collaborative specialization in diaspora and transnational studies.

Guaragna researched Angelou’s life and works as part of an independent research project in collaboration with Howard University in Washington, D.C. The goal was to create narratives and tie them to pieces of artwork by Black authors in Angelou’s personal collection.

“I just grew such an appreciation for this prolific figure in American literary history and also civil rights history,” she says.

The connection to Munk became even deeper when Guaragna sent a letter of thanks to Munk’s adult children — Anthony, Nina and Marc-David — who generously established the scholarship in the Department of English in the Faculty of Arts & Science to honour their mother.

“It was an incredible opportunity to express my gratitude and share what the scholarship means to me,” Guaragna says. “It’s a beautiful legacy to remember their mother by, and everything she did and represented for U of T as a professor and an academic.”

Guaragna is now fully devoted to her studies. She is pursuing a collaborative specialization in diaspora and transnational studies, exploring topics like post-colonial literature, feminist literature, memory, fragmentation and childhood. She’s been especially interested in the works of bell hooks and Edward Said.

“In this collaborative specialization, we have students from all disciplines: anthropology, theatre, fine arts. You have a nice coalition of all these different groups here,” Guaragna says. “Being able to share thoughts with other students is a very rewarding experience.”

Guaragna says she became interested in literature at 14 after reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

“That was the book that just radically changed my worldview and opened a door that never again closed,” she says.

When she’s not studying, Guaragna is cooking, skating or, in the warmer months, spending time outside gardening, kayaking and biking. And, of course, reading for pleasure. She’s currently working through the essays of Audre Lorde.

While Guaragna has plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the future, she’s mindful of finding the right topic.

“A PhD is no small feat,” Guaragna says. “I'm still in the process of looking for that project that would really consolidate all the learning I've done and all the research.”

According to Guaragna, she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support of her family and her professors — “People that pushed me and believed in me,” she says. Guaragna is the first member of her family to pursue a graduate degree, a fact she keeps in mind when trying to appreciate her studies for what they are and not as a means to an end.

“It’s an incredible honour and an incredible opportunity,” Guaragna says. “Even though it's difficult at times, I'm so fortunate and I'm so privileged to be here and to do what I'm doing.”