Carlos Yu ’24 wins Watson fellowship

Carlos Yu ’24
Carlos Yu ’24, winner of a 2024 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, sits outside of the Wallace library on campus. (Photo by Keith Nordstrom)

Creative writing major will travel the globe in search of resistance

Carlos Yu ’24 will embark on the trip of a lifetime after graduation, traveling to Nigeria, Singapore and Hong Kong in search of resistance in writing.

The yearlong journey is a result of Yu winning a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The $40,000 grant—awarded to just 35 students across the country—enables graduating seniors to travel the globe exploring a theme of their choice.

“It’s honestly surreal,” said Yu, who was born in the Philippines. “I wake up every morning, and it feels like a dream.”

For Yu, a creative writing major and Posse Scholar, his admiration for resistance came from reading the likes of James Baldwin, Claudia Rankine and Zora Neale Hurston.

Yu saw that speaking differently—and by extension writing differently—was something to be celebrated not criticized, an opportunity to diversify language and a chance to give voices to the voiceless, particularly people of color.

“These authors addressed questions I had been asking since I moved to the U.S.,” Yu said. “The art of their resistance—from their arguments and ideas to their depiction of characters; from their sentence styles, their interplay with syntax and grammar rules to their innovation or destruction of a traditional genre of writing—were not reflections of insecurity but forms of creation.

“A story, even a sentence, could become a space, a new area where the forbidden become appropriate, where rage, melancholy and rest belonged. I discovered resistance was not negation, but the birth of something new.”

Hurston’s use of sound and colloquialism to convey the language of the South, for example, was a form of resistance in that it strayed from “standard” English, but it illustrated something arguably more authentic, he said.

Yu has wondered about the canons of other countries and which authors are admired overseas.

“Everything I know is limited to the American landscape,” Yu said. “I wanted to go abroad and see how they understand literature and bring it back here. Maybe there can be some kind of transformation in the way that people value and approach stories.”

While in Nigeria, Yu plans to work with the Abuja Literary Society, as well as with Cassava Republic Press, an independent publisher challenging the way people think about African writing.

In Singapore, he’ll volunteer at the Singapore Writers Festival, as well as take part in various collectives and book clubs.

In Hong Kong, he’ll help out at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and at Proverse Publishing, a boutique publisher known for printing unorthodox work.

After graduation, Yu would like to write and teach. Both passions, he said, were born at Wheaton. He’s a teaching assistant for his “Intro to Poetry” class and he also hosts workshops at the Norton Public Library.

“I know a lot of people who feel stifled, who don’t consider themselves writers because they’ve been taught their self-communication is primitive or incorrect,” Yu said. “I imagine myself teaching because the people who have really transformed and changed my life are all my educators.”

It was his professors at Wheaton who saw his potential and gave him a gentle push to pursue his goals. Yu said he was unsure if he wanted to apply for a Watson fellowship, but it was at the urging of Associate Professor of English Winter Jade Werner that he ultimately applied. Werner is also the coordinator of national fellowships and scholarships at Wheaton.

Associate Professor of English Kent Shaw also has been supportive. He helped Yu secure an internship at Rescue Press—his first foray in the publishing world.

“I have to give immense credit to my professors,” Yu said. “When I’m in their classes, I feel like they really know me. A lot of them have pushed me, sought me out for certain opportunities and advocated for me immensely.

By Scott Enman ’15