Darius Stewart

Darius Stewart, PhD student, English

Explores identity through memoir

“Darius embodies the creative, hybrid, form-breaking direction that makes our English PhD program unique.” -Blaine Greteman, professor and department chair, English

Knoxville, Tennessee

Faculty mentor/advisor:
Inara Verzemnieks, MFA, associate professor, English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

What is your degree program and anticipated graduation date?
PhD in English and May 2026

Please describe your research:
My current research develops the genre of speculative memoir, which relies on imaginative scenarios, meditation, fictional narrative, and personal experience, to interrogate traditional notions of infidelity as it pertains to Black men who have secret same-sex desires for other men—a phenomenon known as the “down low” (or “DL”). I use a hybrid method to interweave these personal experiences—both my own and those gleaned from social media, ethnographic case studies on DL men, and analyses of online adult marketplaces—to explore how intersecting forms of oppression such as racism, classism, homophobia, and heterosexism influence DL men and other Black queer men’s sexual decision making and experiences.

In simple terms, why does this research matter?
Black men on the “down low” have historically been framed as vectors of disease due to their alleged hypersexual and duplicitous “lifestyle.” Based on these historical perspectives, most of the quantitative and ethnographic studies of DL men tend to be data driven within an HIV/AIDS context. 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.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research?

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa?
The Department of English has continued to support my methods for revising traditional forms and formats of academic research, particularly my desire to drive the field of gender and sexuality studies forward by developing new perspectives for speculative memoir and other exploratory nonfictions.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I am weighing my options. Conventional wisdom says I’ll be a university professor of creative nonfiction. I’m also open to opportunities outside of academia. We shall see.

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