Graduate students often wonder how their work fits into their lives outside the university. We publish and present papers with the hope that they contribute significantly to our fields. But for many scholars, public engagement in the form of podcasts, blog posts, youtube channels, and creative writing have helped us feel that we are contributing to public discussion as well. Graduate students usually have even less time and resources than faculty so their efforts are especially noteworthy.
Pterodáctilo is the graduate student publication of Hispanic and Lusophone literature and linguistics in the UT Department of Spanish and Portuguese. First published in 1984 as the printed journal Dactylus, Pterodáctilo has undergone a series of transformations—most notably a shift from print to an online multimedia format—that have allowed it to highlight the creative and critical work of graduate students for each other and for public audiences. The online magazine has expanded to include a range of poetry, fiction, interviews, video shorts, photography, and audio content, as well as academic articles. The current editors of Pterodáctilo are Ana Cecilia Calle Poveda, Ana Almar-Liante, and Samuel Ellis Ginsburg. Contributors include students from UT’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese and related departments and scholarship as well as pieces submitted from scholars and creatives outside of UT. I spoke with current editor Samuel Ellis Ginsburg and graduate student and contributor Ashley Garcia to learn more about Pterodáctilo in its current iteration.
Ginsburg is a graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He received his BA from the University of Pittsburgh and his MA from NYU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He currently studies 20th-century Caribbean literature and corporal politics and economies.
Ashley Garcia is a first-year graduate student in the Iberian and Latin American Languages and Cultures PhD Program, housed under the Spanish and Portuguese Program. She studies violence in contemporary Mexican culture. Aside from her academic research, she is interested in human rights work and writing creative pieces for Pterodáctilo.
Can you talk a little bit about Pterodáctilo and your involvement with it? What are the aims of the project, and how did it get started?
SG: Pterodáctilo is a magazine that focuses on Latin American, Brazilian, Iberian, and Latinx culture. It started as a traditional literary journal named Dactylus. It was revived a few years before I got to UT with the idea of making it a mostly online journal. I am one of its current editors. Our goal now is to take advantage of the online platform with shorter posts, podcasts, videos, photo essays, and a social media presence.
AG: I started writing for Pterodáctilo last semester, and my plan is to continue posting pieces. From my perspective, it serves a platform that graduate students can use to express their interests in a writing form that differs from what we typically see in academia.
Who participates in writing, researching, and editing Pterodactilo? And who is your audience?
SG: Our writers are mostly UT Spanish graduate students, with a few people from Comparative Literature, LLILAS, and English. It is all volunteer. Our audience is mostly other UT students, though through social media we have been broadening that network to people from all over that are interested in what we are writing about.
AG: All graduate students from the department (and even outside the department) are encouraged to write for the magazine. Since each student has different interests and writing styles, research takes form in different ways. Sometimes you will find a book review, a chronicle, or an interview. However, you will also find poems and prose that may be partially inspired by current events or subjects we are covering in class.
A lot of our audience is academic, but I try to write for a broader audience. While I like to write about complex subjects and experiences, I keep the language simple so my friends and family can enjoy the pieces as well.
What were the goals you set out to accomplish when the project began? Have you met them? How have your aims or focuses changed over time?
SG: Our goals were really to just give grad students a platform to write what they want, and I think we have met them. Our aims have changed a little bit by including more content on issues surrounding Austin (like Gun Free UT). This wasn’t our original goal, but it has really helped us better connect to what is going on around town.
AG: The biggest jump has been changing from a journal to an online publication. Changing from print to online makes the work available to a broader public.
What kind of feedback have you received so far?
SG: The feedback has been good. I think more and more people are reading the posts we publish. The biggest sign of positive feedback is that more and more people are contacting us to write for the website. I think that means that they are seeing it as a valuable space.
AG: Most of the feedback I have heard comes from friends and family. They have been surprised by my pieces (in a positive way) and have encouraged me to keep exploring my writing skills in different ways.
How has working with a public audience influenced your scholarship?
SG: Personally, it has helped a lot. I have gotten to workshop a couple of ideas on the blog that eventually got turned into academic papers or presentations. I think the blog offers a great space for putting out ideas and starting conversations.
AG: From my perspective, this is a symbiotic relationship. I grew up in the U.S.-Mexico border, so this has heavily influenced my work with human rights issues in and outside the academy. I started studying violence in contemporary Mexican culture because I was frustrated with the impunity that many people face. Learning about the culture allowed me to work with human rights organizations, and these experiences have helped me narrow my own interests in the academia. I have witnessed how important it is to share my experiences and perspectives about these issues with a broader public, and this is the main reason why I have turned to publications that are not purely academic.
Image courtesy of Juan Pablo Cantu