Darius Stewart, a PhD candidate in English, is one of 45 graduate students nationwide to receive a competitive fellowship that includes an award of up to $50,000
Thursday, April 25, 2024

Darius Stewart, a University of Iowa graduate student pursuing a PhD in English, is a 2024 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellow.  

The fellowship will allow Stewart to make progress on his dissertation “Erotic Discretion: Toward a Speculative Memoir on Desire, Betrayal, and Black Gay Monogamy,” which examines the evolving public perception of the “down low” (or DL), a sexual metaphor for Black men who identify as heterosexual but conceal same-gender desires.

Darius Stewart
Darius Stewart

Stewart says learning he received the award was an ethereal moment.  

“One emotion quickly led to another: joy, disbelief, and a deep sense of responsibility.  I celebrate this achievement while also remaining humbled by the award’s intention: to allow me time and space to develop a project that means a great deal to me,” Stewart says. “I also celebrate this moment with the mentors and colleagues in the Department of English and UI Grad Success, without whom I couldn’t have assembled the best possible application.” 

Stewart’s dissertation argues that constant exposure to social media and other content focused on objectifying DL men entices some Black gay men in monogamous relationships to seek discreet sexual encounters that can lead to betraying their current partner.  He says DL Black men have also been historically associated with HIV/AIDS and hypersexualized.  

“My research aims to return their experiences to the humanities, to be more empathetic to how DL men negotiate pleasure and secrecy in a society marked by normative expectations of masculinity and sexuality without relegating them to HIV/AIDS discourses,” Stewart says.  

Stewart, who also received an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Iowa, is the author of the books, Intimacies in Borrowed Light and Be Not Afraid of My Body: A Lyrical Memoir. His poetry and creative nonfiction essays have been featured in many publications.  

“I’ve spent years exploring how to push the boundaries of memoir writing. I’m fascinated by the tension between defying traditional form while simultaneously embracing generic conventions,” Stewart adds. “This fellowship is an incredible gift that lets me experiment with these ideas both broadly and within my own project. I couldn’t ask for better help in advancing my work than that.”  

Forty-five doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences will receive the fellowship to “pursue bold and innovative approaches to dissertation research,” according to an ACLS announcement. The fellowship is co-sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies, a nonprofit federation of 80 scholarly organizations, and is funded by the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities.  

The fellowship includes an award of up to $50,000 that will fund a year-long stipend, in addition to support for project-related research, training, professional development, and more.  

Stewart is one of more than 700 graduate students from 125 universities, across dozens of humanistic disciplines, who applied for a fellowship. The program was launched in 2023 to advance doctoral education that prioritizes openness to new methods and sources, underrepresented voices and perspectives, and scholarly experimentation.