*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Mary Anne Mohanraj is a writer, professor, and mother. She’s author of A Feast of Serendib: a Sri Lankan cookbook (Mascot Books), an immigrant lit. novel-in-stories, Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins), the science fictional The Stars Change (Circlet Press), a cancer romance set in Oak Park, Perennial (Lethe Press), and eleven other titles; other recent publications include stories for George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards anthology series. Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. The Stars Change was a finalist for the Lambda, Rainbow, and Bisexual Book Awards.
Dr. Mohanraj is recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, has received a Locus Award for service to the community and a Breaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women, and has been Guest of Honor at numerous conventions. She serves as Executive Director of both DesiLit (desilit.org) and the Speculative Literature Foundation (speclit.org), and directs the Kriti Festival of Art and Literature (kritifestival.org). She has served on the futurist boards of the XPrize and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, and currently serves on the board of the international futurist org, Plurality University.
Dr. Mohanraj founded the Hugo-nominated and World Fantasy Award-winning speculative literature magazine, Strange Horizons, and served for ten issues as editor-in-chief of Jaggery, a South Asian literary journal (jaggerylit.com), which she continues to publish (2013-2019). She was elected to local office in 2017 and serves on the Oak Park library board. She also founded and moderates various community Facebook groups, including Oak Park Area Garden Club and Oak Park Area Neighbors.
Dr. Mohanraj has taught at a diverse range of schools, from Northwestern University to Salt Lake City Community College, to the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College. For the past several years, she has been Clinical Associate Professor of fiction and literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she teaches post-colonial literature, feminist & queer theory, speculative fiction, and more.
She moved to Oak Park in 2009, and lives in a creaky old Victorian near the YMCA with her husband Kevin Whyte (a math professor at UIC), two children (who currently attend Holmes and Brooks; their daughter will be entering OPRF this fall), and assorted animals. She loves working in her front garden, talking to neighbors as they pass by, and seeing people share books in her little free library.
Do you believe the district is adequately addressing the needs of its most marginalized students, particularly Black and Brown students?
Not yet, though I’m pleased to see we’re making strong efforts toward improvement.
What are your expectations from the next superintendent who will succeed outgoing Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams?
I hope for a superintendent already experienced in addressing equity concerns in a complex system with a host of varied stakeholders; I’m looking for a superintendent who can hit the ground running and continue the work that Dr. Pruitt-Adams has mapped out and started.
What are your thoughts on the district’s hybrid learning model and its implementation?
In general, I’m in favor of following evidence-based science on pandemic-related concerns. Given the current federal and state guidelines, hybrid seems the closest we can safely come right now to in-person learning. I look forward to a time, hopefully soon, when community spread is low enough, and vaccine sufficiently available, that we can all be safely back in the classroom again. As a teacher myself, I very much miss seeing my students in person.
Will you support the district’s plans for freshmen curriculum restructuring? Please explain your reasoning.
Yes, I think the new system that will offer honors-level material to all freshmen will be an important step in reducing systemic barriers and inequities in our community.
What are your thoughts on the current teacher contract?
I haven’t looked over the numbers in detail yet (as I’m still serving on the library board, my focus on budgetary matters is still there), but in general, I hope that our teachers and staff are competitively and fairly paid, so we can attract and retain the best educators for our students.
What do you understand to be the core functions of a school board member?
To ensure that the superintendent is enacting policies and structuring plans that hew closely to the school mission, to support staff in their work, to be engaged with and answerable to the community at large, especially the students and parents, and to oversee the budget, so that resources are spent appropriately and judiciously.