BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Senior English-writing major Yovana Milosevic ’21 spent her summer writing poems delving into the complexities
of the immigrant experience, as part of her work as a 2020 Eckley Scholar.
Milosevic’s project, “Exotic Tonguing: Immigration Narratives Told through Gurlesque
Poems,” involved researching and writing a chapbook of poetry relating to her personal
experiences as a first-generation American.
“There are multiplicities to my identity that have affected the way I exist in this
world,” said Milosevic. “I wanted to observe and analyze how these different identities
intersect, as well as how the traditional immigrant narrative contrasts with the Gurlesque
The “Gurlesque,” a contemporary style of feminist poetry that emphasizes the performative
aspects of gender, was a major influence in Milosevic’s work. Other inspirations included
poet Jenny Zhang, who writes about her specific experiences as an immigrant and a
woman in America.
A tension between the benefits of her life in America and her personal feelings of
‘otherness’ characterize much of Milosevic’s writing. “There are deeply complex ethical
dilemmas when it comes to deconstructing one’s own family’s immigration experience,
and I had to come from a place of understanding, as I grew up much more privileged
than most of my family,” Milosevic explained.
In delving into her Eastern European roots for this project, Milosevic gained a deeper
knowledge of her family history, including how her Romani great-grandmother, despite
being placed in a concentration camp, fought fascism by stealing their bombs and donating
them to anti-fascist resistance movements during World War II. She also discovered
several Roma women writers in addition to online forums specifically dedicated to
the intersection of Romani culture and feminism.
“I was surprised with my findings, but at the same time, they felt really welcome.
Like I was finding answers I had waited my entire life to hear.”
Milosevic worked with her faculty advisor, Robert Harrington Endowed Professor of
English and Writing Program Director Michael Theune, to find sources of inspiration
and discuss Milosevic’s progress on her poems. “This collaboration meant that I had
the opportunity to ask any questions about any aspect of poetry—technical, stylistic,
emotional, narrative,” said Milosevic. “The life of poetry is endless, and there are
so many different ways to go with each poem, and having a faculty advisor to guide
me and help focus the project was essential to its success.”
Through her experience as an Eckley Scholar, Milosevic benefited from the opportunity
to conduct a self-driven creative project as an undergraduate, and she intends to
apply the skills she developed as a researcher and poet in her career.
“My experience was truly wonderful, and I am so thankful that I got to spend the summer
enjoying myself through researching and writing poems on what I am most passionate