Jiménez and García Merchant receive Mellon Grant to archive Puerto Rican literature

Claire Jimenez, Linda Garcia Merchant, and photo of books by Puerto Rican authors
Photo credit: University of Houston / Courtesy Photos

May 24, 2021 by Erin Chambers

Ph.D. student Claire Jiménez and a team of scholars from around the country have received a $1.35 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for “El proyecto de la literatura puertorriqueña/The Puerto Rican Literature Project” (PRLP).

The grant will support the creation of a free, open-access, bilingual digital archive and database of approximately 50,000 photographs, manuscripts, poems, videos, and other items documenting the material existence and experiences of key Puerto Rican poets in the archipelago and U.S. diaspora. The materials date back as far as 1917—the year the Jones-Shafroth Act extended US citizenship to Puerto Ricans in the archipelago. Many of the materials are physically archived in different locations and have yet to be digitized or collected into a single archive; others have yet to be archived at all.

The four-person Colectivo (collective) at the heart of the project is Claire Jiménez, Enrique Olivares PesanteRicardo Maldonado, and Raquel Salas Rivera. The collaborative nature of the project extends even beyond the Colectivo; in building the archive, they will be working closely with translators, specialists, and the team of scholars at the University of Houston’s US Latino Digital Humanities Program (USLDH). The principal investigator on the grant, Gabriela Baeza Ventura, is co-founder of the USLDH and executive editor of Arte Público Press.

“The Puerto Rican Literature Project is the culmination of the hard work of a large team of scholars, digital humanists, and writers,” says Jiménez. “Each of us in the Colectivo—Enrique Olivares, Ricardo Maldonado, and Raquel Salas Rivera—have dreamt of such an archive for years before joining forces with USLDH to make this dream come true.”

Dr. Linda García Merchant, a UNL English alum, is The Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the USLDH and a collaborator on the project. She received her Ph.D. in English from UNL in 2020, along with a Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities.

“The DH certification process at UNL does lay the foundation for all kinds of project potential,” says García Merchant. “It continues to compliment my work with the US Latino Digital Humanities Program at the University of Houston and with the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Memory Collectiveand Maria Cotera at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m happy that Claire and I have been able to benefit in these truly substantive ways.”

“I am so grateful to the Mellon Foundation for funding this project,” says Jiménez. “We know that the grant comes with a great deal of responsibility. Our team at The University of Houston and the Colectivo will work hard in collaboration with our communities in the archipelago and the states to honor and preserve our histories and literature. We hope to make our communities proud."

You can learn more about the project on the Arté Publico Press website and follow their progress on the @ProjectoLitPR Twitter account.

Claire Jiménez is a Puerto Rican writer who grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island. She is the author of the short story collection Staten Island Stories (Johns Hopkins Press, December 2019), which received the 2019 Hornblower Award for a first book from the New York Society Library. Jiménez is a Ph.D. student in English with a concentration in ethnic studies and digital humanities at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She received her M.F.A. from Vanderbilt University. Recently, she was a research fellow at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. Currently, she is an assistant fiction editor at Prairie Schooner. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Remezcla, Afro-Hispanic Review, PANK, The Rumpus, el roommate, Eater, District Lit, The Toast and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications.

Linda García Merchant holds a PhD in English from UNL with an emphasis on Chicana/Latina Literary and Cultural Studies and Digital Humanities. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, García Merchant has directed and produced eleven films, as well as the autobiographical short No Es Facil. García Merchant is co-founder of the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Memory Collection (CPMR), an online repository of Chicana/Latina Second Wave Feminist materials and interviews. She is also the creator of Chicana Diasporic: A Nomadic Journey of the Activist Exiled, a research site that highlights the political/ideological journey of the women of the Chicana Caucus of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) from 1973 to 1979 and the autobiographical experience of living as Mexican and Black during that same period. Acutely aware of the complexities that continue to present themselves through this identity, García Merchant identifies as bicultural and Chicana. She is currently working on a chapter exploring the life of her second wave feminist mother, Ruth “Rhea” Mojica Hammer, for the manuscript-in-progress, Chicago Latina Trailblazers.