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Q&A: Beatriz Rivas, Layla Knowles on completed theses, humanities research, creativity

By Vivian Sun/Daily Bruin Staff

By Natalie Ralston

June 10, 2024 4:18 p.m.

UCLA researchers are setting a golden standard for the humanities.

Fourth-year history student Beatriz Rivas and fourth-year English student Layla Knowles, are eager to share their creative theses with the world. Spanning diverse interests in the rights to reserve a novella and the reemergence of Mexican folk music, corridos, the duo earned a place in their respective fields. Set to leave a legacy for future researchers in the humanities, the pair has already received numerous accolades for their work.

The Daily Bruin’s Natalie Ralston hosted a roundtable discussion with Rivas and Knowles on their completed theses. The students dove into their year-long creative research projects and their future academic goals related to their work.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Related: Q&A: Author and poet Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo discusses verse as a Chicana]

Daily Bruin: Your individual research spans topics of perception of self and others in a novella and the rights to reserve a novel. What initially sparked your interest in this area of research?

Layla Knowles: I wrote a short story called “Stinger,” which was, in part, based on some experiences I had when I was in high school and also a Mormon summer camp I briefly attended. That story felt different when I wrote it for the first time. I felt really good about it. It ended up winning a prize, the David Wong Louie Memorial Creative Writing Prize from UCLA. I just realized when it came time to create a thesis that I wanted to explore the character more.

DB: It seems like you have very personal ties to your thesis. Did you find any part of this project especially fulfilling in completing your research?

LK: I think in the past, I had dealt with a lot of trauma I experienced by putting it into my work. I thought it would mean my trauma was worth something and that it wasn’t for nothing. I found that those parts that were very particular to me I ended up editing out of the book in a very essential way. It wasn’t to hide anything, I just realized that in order for a piece to be essentially me, it didn’t have to be my essential pain. I think identifying myself on my own terms is what happened in my thesis.

DB: Research can often be a very tiresome and grueling process but also very rewarding. Did you face any challenges in your research?

Beatriz Rivas: Mine was about the scope of my project. I was trying to be very methodical, and I had a lot of luck because there’s a lot of scholarship about this topic, so I was able to build on that. I took a microcosm and analyzed 200 songs, and narrowed it down to a subset of 42 songs that have a common thread, like a particular person. I started having to corroborate the stories I was telling, and then I kept facing the challenge of, ‘Well, if I talk about this, people need to understand that,’ so I had to explain the evolution of how we consume news and how that has changed and the evolution of how we consume music and how that has changed. These songs are not going to be on the Billboard charts, so we’re not going to get easy facts about this genre. It started to get much larger than I expected.

DB: Undergraduate research can often feel restricted to the STEM fields. Why do you think research is so important for the humanities?

BR: I’ve always had the opinion that there is a disconnect in the STEM field. I feel like it’s become so divided and it doesn’t communicate well to the regular person. I feel like it’s all more important for there to be research in the humanities, and I hope that at some point it sort of bridges, because it is all connected.

DB: Is there any part of the completion of your thesis that you’re most excited about? How do you hope it will impact future researchers or audiences that read your thesis?

LK: I recently, for grad school, got into The New School for creative writing, which is very exciting. I was surprised though because of my application, I sent stuff that I thought was very, very dark work, and they were like, ‘We think this might work for children/young adults.’ I feel as if children and young people are constantly underestimated. I think books should be political. I think there’s a lot of censorship. I do want to get it published. I think there should be a much wider landscape for young, young adults. Hopefully, this will aid that to an extent because young adults do adult things and it’s realistic.

BR: I’m a transfer student, so I went to community college first, and that’s where I was introduced to research. I was chosen, and I did get to present at that time, and I remember seeing the impact. I still get letters from people, or emails or Instagram notes about how this research started their journey and it’s been so healing for them. I feel like anytime you can see yourself reflected in these spaces, it’s really important, I hope people start seeing themselves in the academy, where it’s been mostly gatekept and white and male and heteronormative. I’m hoping that these little steps allow people to see their ability to also find a way in.

[Related: Q&A: Tananarive Due talks connections, writing process for new story ‘The Rider’]

DB: The research process has been a very long and memorable experience for you all. Will the completion of this research play a role in your prospective careers? Do you hope to do more research in the future? If so, would you want it to be on similar subjects?

LK: All I love to do is creative writing. It’s my favorite thing ever. Research is definitely something that’s very valuable to me. For this one, it was a little more abstract because it is a surreal book. But there is a book that I’m not going to detail about. I’ve been working on it since I was 17. That’s what I consider my magnum opus. It’s something that I couldn’t do in the span of time (one year) that I might do for grad school. I’m just really excited about that and being able to complete this made me feel as if I could definitely meet a deadline. It taught me to be confident in talking about my book and being assertive with the fact that I wrote a book because it defends my books right to exist and why people should read it. Moving forward, I want a career as a published author, and I will have a career as a published author.

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