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Shannon Luders-Manuel has found her voice as a mixed-race writer

Finding her voice: Addressing race with creativity and compassion

Shannon Luders-Manuel (2007 alumna) wasn’t sure what a thesis statement was when she came to SOU as an English major. She now makes her living as a writer, essayist and critical mixed-race scholar who has been published in a number of academic, news and creative publications.

Luders-Manuel garnered national attention in 2017, when the New York Times published her essay, “My Grandmother’s Story is Ending as Mine Begins.” It is true that the piece in the Times increased her audience base, but it is equally true that Luders-Manuel’s other works are where she earned her writing chops. 

Luders-Manuel has found herself at the epicenter of some of the nation’s most polarizing race issues as a public speaker and author of “Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide: Educators’ Guide.”

“When I talk about my family culture, I’m mixed,” she wrote on For Harriet, an online community for women of African ancestry. “When I talk about racism, I’m black. When Trayvon Martin was shot for wearing a hoodie, I was black. When Eric Garner was choked to death for selling cigarettes on the street, I was black. When Sandra Bland was arrested for failing to turn on her blinker, I was black. When churchgoers were shot for being black, I was black.”

Luders-Manuel found her voice while sharing her experience as a mixed-race woman at SOU and during graduate school at the University of Massachusetts. She has been researching and writing the biracial experience for more than 10 years. The essay posted on For Harriet was shared over 50,000 times on Facebook when it was published in 2015.

Luders-Manuel originally chose SOU because it was an easy drive to visit family in California, but she realized shortly after arriving in Ashland that she had found her place.

“There was such a welcoming community,” she said. “I lived in Baker dorm, and it had a real family feel. Also, I had a work-study job at the library, and we really had a tight-knit community of students working there. Some of us still stay in touch.”

Though she has been away from SOU for 13 years, she still draws on the lessons she learned here. Luders-Manuel recalls one of her favorite instructors, Alma Rosa Alvarez.

“Professor Alvarez used to make us write short-response papers,” Luders-Manuel said. “After we turned them in, she would offer feedback and keep giving them back for rewrites until they were correct. She’d do this as many times as needed.

“If she did like it, she would put a tiny check mark at the top of the paper. I remember when I got the checkmark, I would be so excited. It was one of the most effective ways of learning to write well. She wouldn’t just tell you about your errors, she’d make you work to change them.”

Alvarez, says Luders-Manuel, was also the first teacher of color that she ever had. “It was important to me to see a woman of color in that position,” she said. “Even though we are different ethnicities, I could see myself in her. She was also my biggest advocate. Professor Alvarez was the one who encouraged me to go to graduate school, and I’m so glad I did that. I am so grateful to her.”

Luders-Manuel, who earned a master’s degree from UMass, said she hadn’t always seen college in her future. “It wasn’t something my family encouraged at first, and it took me a long time to take the leap,” she said. 

She credits SOU for giving her the foundation to write in a variety of genres, including business, news, academic and marketing.

“I am able to write in many different genres because I had so many different classes and opportunities while I was at SOU,” Luders-Manuel said. “That has helped me more than anything.”

This story was repurposed from the fall 2017 issue of SOU’s alumni magazine, The Raider