Spotlight on: Dr Alicia J. Rouverol

An interview with the new Research Associate on Creative Manchester’s creative industries business engagement project.

Dr Alicia J. RouverolAs 2020 drew to a close, Creative Manchester welcomed a new team member: writer and academic Dr Alicia J. Rouverol. Alicia has joined the University as Research Associate on Creative Manchester’s Deep Dive project—a collaborative endeavour with Aspect Network that will facilitate partnerships between academia and the creative industries. The ongoing project, which recently incorporated a Business Engagement Workshop, will culminate in a toolkit of practical resources, offering guidance on forging mutually beneficial academia-industry partnerships.

Alicia was born and raised in California, and has enjoyed a multifaceted career as both a writer and an oral historian. As the latter, she has held directorial posts at two US university-based oral history centres; here in the UK, she was a core team member of the NHS at 70: The Story of Our Lives project, based in CHSTM. Her first co-authored book, “I Was Content and Not Content”: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry (2000), was called “a compassionate and sorely needed book” by The New York Times, and her documentary work is housed in archives across America, most recently in the Library of Congress and UC-Berkeley.

Alicia is also a published author of fiction. Her fiction work, including recently completed novels Dry River and The Other Side of Darwin, focuses on many of the issues she explored previously through folklore, oral history and nonfiction: worker culture, time and the effects of economic decline. Following the completion of a PhD as a President’s Doctoral Scholar in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing (2017), Alicia now teaches Creative Writing at The University of Salford, where her main academic interest lies in the fields of contemporary fiction (UK and US), women’s experimental writing and globalisation.

Two of Alicia’s stories from her story collection-in-process, themed on migration, mobility and place, are now published, including ‘Backstroke’ in The Manchester Review. Her short fiction, nonfiction, poetry and reviews have also appeared in The Monitor, Cicatrice, Route 57, The Wandering Bard, The Puckerbrush Review, Dandelion Review, Island Journal, extimacy, The Independent and The Manchester Anthology.

To find out more about Alicia and her work on the Deep Dive project, we sent her some questions.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your areas of interest. 

I come from three generations of creatives—both a boon and a curse growing up. There were big shoes to fill, but I had the creative life modelled for me and felt there was nothing I could do but write. Then a mentor in folklore and oral history catalysed my love of story, and I was bitten by the bug. What brought me to Manchester was the novel I’d drafted, burning a hole in my back pocket. My first co-authored non-fiction book featured one woman’s story of deindustrialisation; when I returned to fiction, I found myself writing on the effects of economics/neoliberalism on our lives, on place. As a scholar, I now write on depictions of globalisation in contemporary fiction. But globalisation isn’t so new, is it? What I didn’t know when I came here is that I was a Mancunian: my great-grandfather had migrated to the American West from this city!

What drew you to Creative Manchester and Aspect, and to the role of Research Associate on the Deep Dive project? 

What drew me is that I knew and admired Creative Manchester’s work. I was on the original Making a Difference poetry in the schools project (2017). Then I was filmed by CM as an inaugural Artist in Residence at The John Rylands Library (2019), developing my collection of stories on migration and place. The Deep Dive project blended my dual interests in the creative industries and my long trajectory in oral history. I suppose too I knew I could achieve the result we were after.

What are you currently working on as part of the role, and what are some of the outcomes that you hope the project will achieve? 

As the academic research lead, I’m developing the project and planning the interviews themselves. We’ve been exhaustive in our approach as we see this as a colossal opportunity to document the rich partnerships in which the University is already engaged. The outcome I’m hoping for—beyond the reports and guides already planned—is that we continue to break down the false divide between ‘university’ and ‘creative industry’: that we build better and stronger partnerships moving forward.

From your experience of working across the two organisations, what do you see as the key benefits of Creative Manchester’s partnership with Aspect? 

Creative Manchester’s work with Aspect is a significant turning point. It seems the organisation has (in its short, wonderful life thus far) been at the nexus of the University’s creative undertakings. What the Aspect Deep Dive project will allow, it seems to me, is for CM to take a leadership role in strengthening and developing these creative industry partnerships, as the University continues to make itself relevant to the broader community. 

What have you learned, or what do you hope to learn, while undertaking this role, and what future goals or ambitions might this knowledge help you to fulfil? 

My hope is that we’ll develop a ‘toolkit’ for how creatives and academics can work collaboratively toward shared aims, and ideally, that through this we can build partnerships that strengthen both sectors. This project will allow me to be an engaged player in the creative industries and an advocate for them. I have a vested interest: my youngest is a published poet and as the fourth generation has a family tradition to keep up! The creative industries, I’ve learned through this project, were growing four times faster than the rest of the UK economy prior to COVID-19. We need to keep all aspects of the industries going, for everyone’s sake.

In the context of the pandemic, which has led to huge challenges for the creative sector, why is the Deep Dive project important/meaningful in these times? 

COVID-19 has cost the creative sector hugely, and in ways we are only beginning to grapple with. Writing has always been the way in and the way out of difficulty. Shakespeare wrote in the worst of times as London’s playhouses were closing down to the plague! (We go on, in short.) Deep Dive enables us to capture what’s going on in the industry right now—as we face our own modern-day equivalent.

How has a year of lockdowns changed the way that you approach or appreciate your work? 

When lockdown first hit, I realised I could respond in one of two ways: I could see this as a moment in which my work would have to stop, or in which it might begin (anew). I suppose I chose the latter. I read morning and night and wrote when I could. In fact, that is what I most remember from last spring: reading, writing, and walking in the park with my family. In a white fire, I wrote ‘Quarantine Season’, Cicatrice: Iso-poetics issue (April 2020). The interior time proved vital, and last week I decided this must remain my response.

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