Profiles | 13 October 2023

Grad Profile: Mia Tempestt Boykin


Photo by Salima Allen & Lani De Soto

Mia Tempestt Boykin is a PhD candidate in Literature at UC Santa Cruz. Their dissertation focuses on the work of poet Wanda Coleman. Boykin has served as a THI Public Fellow with TC/ENBY, a trans wellness initiative in LA; as a Graduate Student Success Fellow; and as part of the inaugural Humanizing Technology Fellows cohort in 2022-2023, teaching the course HUMN 45 – 01, “Race and Technology,” in Summer 2023. This summer, we learned more about Boykin’s research and curation work, their experiences teaching at UCSC, their recently published second book, and their role as a community “plug” for bringing QPOC artists together.

Hi Mia! Thank you for chatting with us about your ongoing work! To begin, would you provide us with an overview of your dissertation project and what you are currently focused on?

Thank you for having me. My dissertation project is tentatively titled “Wanda, Why Aren’t You Dead?,” and it’s a posthumous examination of the life and work of the great poet Wanda Coleman. She’s arguably one of the greatest literary minds of the 20th century, and my focus surrounding her is to facilitate a complex and fair insight into her personhood, her contributions to the literary landscape of Los Angeles, and her numerous iconoclasts. 

In 2021, you served as a THI Public Fellow working with the TG/ENBY project, a trans wellness initiative based in Los Angeles. Could you tell us about the project and the series you organized? 

Yes, in 2021 I extended my archival project Black.Queer.Alive. into a summer series of wellness workshops. I collaborated with local activists, health & wellness facilitators, business owners, and creatives to coordinate the workshops according to their expertise. The beauty of this moment was that I was able to provide resources and programming geared specifically towards Black and Brown QPOC. This project continues to be a successful endeavor for me. Most recently, I’ve partnered again with TG/ENBY to extend the archival project. I’ve been awarded additional funding  and will be focusing on rebranding and re-structuring the project even further. More information will be available in the Spring of 2024. I’m very proud of the relationship I’ve cultivated with them.

You were also a Fellow in THI’s Graduate Student Success Program. What, for you, were the most helpful aspects of this program? Why is it important for incoming graduate students to participate in structured peer mentorship programs?

Having the structure of peer kinship and mentorship in a cross-departmental capacity is essential.

I can speak from the experience of being the only Black woman in my entire department for the past four years; having the structure of peer kinship and mentorship in a cross-departmental capacity is essential. The most beneficial aspect was being able to freely converse with folks who were further ahead in the game than I was. I asked a million questions, attended every seminar, and learned so much in a good amount of time. The focus dedicated to sharing resources in the program is outstanding. It’s definitely a highlight, so far, in my time here at Santa Cruz.

Congratulations on being named as an inaugural Humanizing Technology Teaching Fellow in 2022-2023! You are currently wrapping up the teaching of your newly developed course, “HUMN 45 – 01   Race and Technology.” I’m wondering if you could share a little about your experience participating in the pedagogical design institute. How did you approach the course pedagogically? Were there alignments between the course material and your own work that you wanted to emphasize with students? 

The pedagogical design institute was definitely an experimental and curious time for me.

Thank you! During the first summer, the pedagogical design institute was definitely an experimental and curious time for me. I absorbed everything from a variety of minds in different departments. I’m grateful for that experience, because it helped challenge my thinking in the best way possible. 

When I taught this summer, I wanted to continue in the vein of experimentation. Before teaching the course, I asked myself two questions: 1) What is the most “human” way to approach the subjectivity of race and technology? 2) Can this class be taught (with)out technology?  I relied heavily on a socratic style of teaching and helped facilitate probably the most insightful conversations I’ve heard in a long time. 

Thinking back on teaching the class, I’m wondering if there was a moment that stands out to you? Something surprising, illuminating, challenging, or particularly resonant perhaps?

At one point, we were all students of each other’s world views, knowledge, and experiences. It was a shift in the typical power structure of classroom dynamics, and my intention was to model for my students the type of moral/ethical thought-experiments and conversations surrounding race that should be happening in larger tech-corporate enterprises. It was a privilege to teach this course this summer. I have faith that each student will be at the helm of radical and advanced decision-making in their respective fields and institutions in the future.

I can attest that some of the most brilliant young minds are here at Santa Cruz. 

This summer, you also curated an exhibit at the Good Mother Gallery in Oakland entitled whistling the avant-garde. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what it means to center marginalized artists both in academic spaces and exhibition spaces. You’ve said that you see exhibition space as a “playground”? Why is it important to foreground play as part of this process?

Participants gather at Boykin’s exhibition, whistling the avant – garde opening reception on May 17, 2023.

Similar to TG/ENBY, I partnered with Small Press Traffic, a poetry organization in San Francisco, to curate this exhibition. I find that I’m most prosperous in my partnerships when I’m given the appropriate funding and free-range to highlight the important artists, innovators, and thinkers that are already centered through their art in the world. 

At this point of my career, I’ve become an elusive magical conductor of various artistic curations or better known as “the plug.” I hold this positionality in my community with a lot of reverence and responsibility. Part of maintaining this position is not only bringing in the artists who are doing the work, but ensuring that they have every single means to shine at their brightest.  I believe academic and commercial spaces should always remind themselves that they are fortunate to have QPOC artists considering them for showcases and distributions. When I mention “play”or “playground,” my intention is to express that it’s good to center “marginalized” artists in said spaces, but it’s great to equip them with every possible tool in the toy box that is necessary for them to fly. whistling the avant-garde was a seamless example of this kind of synergy, and most importantly, it was a hit! We had a huge and consistent turnout. I’ve had the privilege of being the liaison to ensure that work like this happens, and I’m proud of the ongoing partnerships (with organizations and artists alike) that have trusted me to come in and draw on the walls with crayons. 

I always leave them with a masterpiece.

Finally, what has been bringing you joy lately?

At the moment, the biggest joy in my life is celebrating the publication of my second book, the delicacy of embracing spirals. My work is published with City Lights, another partnership of pride and joy for me, and it will be available for the public on October 3, 2023. I would like to extend the invitation to my community in Santa Cruz to join me for the book launch on October 19th. I will be in conversation with my good friend and fellow poet Truong Tran. In addition to this, on Saturday October 28th (7pm), I’ll be throwing a fabulous Halloween Party at Medicine for Nightmares in the SF Mission to celebrate my book tour launch. On that evening, the best Bay Area poets will be reading alongside me. I wouldn’t miss out, if I were you. All are welcomed and costumes are highly encouraged.

I’m most joyful about embarking on a world tour to promote my work. I will be connecting with audiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, and Mexico from the Fall of 2023 to the Spring of 2024. This is a huge highlight for me. I realized over the summer that I’m finally living out my dreams. I exist in gratitude. Thank you for the opportunity to share my work with you all. 

More to come…

Banner Image: More attendees at Boykin’s curated exhibition, whistling the avant – garde.