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Sarahtalk: Feminist and Queer World Making in North MS

Brown Bag: Dr. Jaime Harker will discuss the Isom Center's work to create inclusive spaces in North Mississippi.

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM Oct. 7, 2021
LGBTQ Lounge, 4th Floor, Lamar Hall
Open to the public

The old adage “if you want something done, you’ve gotta do it yourself,” is especially true with feminist and queer world making.  And on October 7, at 4pm, Jaime Harker, director, Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, and professor of English, is going to share some of the ways she’s been doing just that with her talk, “Feminist and Queer World Making in North Mississippi.” Her talk will be in the LGBTQ Lounge on the fourth floor of Lamar Hall, a site itself that represents the literal and figurative space the Isom Center strives to create for students, faculty, and staff, on campus. 

Harker credits the Isom staff, University, community partners, and students with the feminist and queer world making work that the Center has been doing since she first served as interim director in 2014-2015. “Collectively, we have been creating feminist and queer worlds in the Oxford area for many years, and I hope that this story will inspire students, faculty, and staff to embark on their own world-making,” she says. Harker plans to discuss how some of these feminist and queer events and organizations have impacted the community. Oxford had its first drag show in the spring of 2015, which was so immensely popular that it sold out with standing room only, and the venue, Lamar Lounge, had to turn people away. The iconic John Waters gave a special performance at the University that same spring and that fall, Sarahfest, which started as a music festival, expanded into an annual arts and music festival that highlights women and queer artists. According to the website,, “Twining the arts and education enables us to create dynamic spaces for change, where we can envision new realities that reflect a better more equitable world for all.” 

Along with the special programming and classes offered, the Isom Center’s newsletter also serves as an extension of the world-building that the Center aims to achieve:

“The newsletter started as a simple announcement of our events, but it has come to be much more - a statement of philosophy and aspiration, a manifesto, a commemoration, and an invitation. We write about what we plan to do but also about our dreams, our hopes, our commitments, our beliefs.  If folks read it and then contact us with their own most-desired projects, then it will have been a success.”

To better understand Harker’s inspirations for helping build a world that she wanted to be a part of in North Mississippi, take a listen to Episode 1 of Season 4’s Swerve South. You can hear about how Harker’s first experiences with world-making were in Provo, Utah, when she was working on her Master’s at Brigham Young University. She discovered a coffee shop with three bookshelves in a back that served as a bookstore. Soon realizing this was the first feminist bookstore she had ever been in, it sparked the inspiration for her to start her own bookstore, years later in Violet Valley, in Water Valley, Mississippi, also known as the only queer, feminist, trans-inclusive bookstore in Mississippi. 

The impetus for opening a bookstore, adding to the queer world-making she found after arriving in the South in the early 2000s, was entertwined with her research on Southern queer feminists. According to, in her research for what became her book, The Lesbian South, Harker discovered a “glorious, feisty, and caring queer tribe, in love with books, and freedom, and each other, who reimagined the South as radical, liberated, and inclusive.” Harker shares that during her book tour, many Southern queers were “surprised and delighted to find that they were part of a long tradition of activists and writers, working to make the place that raised them into a place that could truly value them. They could imagine a future for themselves in the South, sometimes for the first time, and inspired by their lesbian feminist forerunners, they started to believe in their own power.”

She admits that writing the book did the same thing for her. “I discovered that most of these writers were also involved in the Women in Print movement. They founded feminist presses and bookstores, learned to set type and run businesses, and they refused to separate their work as writers from their work as activists and citizens. They inspired me to do the same,” she says. 

Another example of feminist and queer world-making Harker brought to the University of Mississippi from her graduate school days at BYU was inspired by something called Feminist Home Evening, a play on the Mormon tradition of Family Home Evening, where Mormon families, led by the father, gather every Monday evening to learn more about the Mormon faith in a Sunday-school style gathering, which inspires how she conducts her own graduate courses now. 

Harker and her fellow graduate students at BYU started these weekly gatherings as a response to BYU’s refusal to allow the English department to offer a feminist theory course:

“For Feminist Home Evening, we met every Monday night at our professor’s home to discuss the feminist theory we had decided to read together. It was incredibly empowering to realize that we didn’t need permission from an institution to do the work we care about.  We created our own feminist school, and we invited each other to be teachers and scholars and activists.”

Harker incorporates the Feminist Home Evening spirit into her own graduate classes by setting up what she calls, “an intellectual journey on a particular topic--this semester, it is Gender Theory, which I began learning in that unofficial seminar at my professor’s house -- where we read certain essays in common, and then I provide choices about longer works for students to select based on their interests.” It is important to Harker that her students’ own intellectual passions guide their reading and she also wants them to have the collective experience of sharing their discoveries with peers. She says, “Final seminar paper topics are selected with the same freedom of choice--as long as the paper relates to the course topic in some way, the specifics are left to the student. In graduate classes, we are investing students to develop as independent scholars, and that means the more autonomy students have, the more they grow as scholars.”

These are just a few examples Harker will touch on in her talk. Come to the fourth floor LGBTQ Lounge in Lamar Hall on Thursday, October 7 at 4 pm to hear more about Harker’s experiences with Feminist and Queer World-Making in North Mississippi. To request information about disability access, please contact the Sarah Isom Center at 662.915.5916 or

For assistance related to a disability, contact Kevin Cozart: | 662.915.5916

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