[Alumni Profile] Writer, Educator and Oral Historian Svetlana Kitto


This March OHMA alum Svetlana Kitto will be teaching an exciting new literature and writing workshop at the Brooklyn Historical Society called Racial Realities: Writing About Race in the First Person, which will focus on fiction, memoir, oral history, and essay forms that reflect experiences of race and identity. This workshop is part of Brooklyn Historical Society's Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations (CBBG) oral history project and public programming series, which examines the history and experiences of mixed-heritage people and families, cultural hybridity, race, ethnicity, and identity. Several OHMA alums and current students have conducted interviews for this project, and we are excited about this new workshop, which continues to build on the many productive connections between OHMA and the oral history program at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

We’d like to use this opportunity to launch a new feature on our website: Alumni Profiles, in which we check in with OHMA alums and hear what they’ve been up to since graduation.

Svetlana came to OHMA with an interest in the relationship between oral history and literature, and writes fiction, memoir, and essays with an eye toward everyday history, memory, and place. Most recently, her writing has been featured in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, and the book Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, published by Verso Books, among other publications. Her time at OHMA culminated in an interview-based memoir about her grandparents and the Holocaust in Latvia, as well as an oral history project with artists, writers and activists called to action in the early years of the AIDS crisis. She presented that project at the 2010 Oral History Association “Times of Crisis, Times of Change: Human Stories on the Edge of Transformation” conference and the Northeastern Modern Languages Association conference in 2011. In October 2012, audio from those interviews were part of an exhibit for National Coming Out Day at the gallery Space on White in Tribeca; the project is currently making its way to the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Since graduating, Svetlana has shared her skills by working as an oral history workshop leader. In spring 2011, the international law firm Clifford Chance sponsored her and an artist to develop an art and oral history program for a high school Gay-Straight Alliance. Through the course of a semester-long series of workshops, the students developed large-scale banners that addressed issues related to identity, visibility and acceptance, culminating in an exhibit at the law firm. She presented these banners at the 2011 OHA conference as well as the Oral History Mid-Atlantic Region conference later that year. She has also taught art and oral history workshops at the Lincoln School in Rhode Island, Elders Share the Arts in Brooklyn, the Asian American Writers Workshop and the Brooklyn Museum, and a creative writing workshop at a homeless youth drop-in center in Chinatown, NYC.

Svetlana has also been working as an interviewer and oral history project manager. Her background in art and design journalism led to a commission from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, where this spring she will be doing an oral history of the American Design Club for the museum’s “American Design Now: After the Museum” exhibition, slated to open in March, which will present a series of installations and programs that reveal the largely hidden research component of the design practice, while examining cultural institutions’ role in the shaping of design. She is also the project manager and head interviewer on an oral history project of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, one of the major global centers for academic scholarship in Jewish studies that has produced some of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the past century. She’s also, of course, part of the interviewing team for the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations Project. As of this writing, there are still a few slots left open in her workshop this month – check it out here if you’re interested!