A Conversation with Anthropologist, Songwriter, and Publisher Anne McClard (SF83)
January 23, 2023 | By M. Merritt (SF22)
Anne McClard (SF83) is an anthropologist who spent her career in the technology industry, a cofounder of a nonprofit publishing house, a feminist, an amateur songwriter, a musician, and of course, a Johnnie.
If you had to sum up all the projects you have worked on, how would you do it?
One of the reasons I went to St. John’s was that I already had widespread interests, so I guess I was always interested in what you would call an interdisciplinary life. I have elements of myself that are scientific, and I have always loved math, art, and music. I have been a Jack of all trades my entire life. One reason that St. John’s appealed to me was that it didn’t force me to make a choice about what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I have noticed that your work is focused on connecting anthropology with technology. I am wondering how you ended up on that path?
My interest in anthropology grew out of my exposure to the social philosophers at St. John’s, so when I went to graduate school, I chose the program at Brown because it fit with the same kind of interdisciplinary learning. I was interested in studying the anthropology of theatre and performance, and I ended up writing my master’s thesis on a Gilbert and Sullivan repertory theater where I was also a performer.
While I was in graduate school, I took a job in a research organization on campus that gave me a multi-year fellowship. Our research was focused on the role of technology in society. I was one of a handful of classroom ethnographers, and I would go and sit in classrooms that were using this new technology that was a precursor to the World Wide Web, called Intermedia. Our job was to collect data and to analyze the efficacy of the software, and then I went on to do research more broadly on network computing in society. So, my education ended up being funded by IBM and Apple, but I then went on to do my dissertation research for my PhD on the annual festival cycle and religion in the Azores islands, which was more aligned with my interest in performance. When I finished my dissertation research, I found myself pregnant and really needed a job, so I applied for an internship at Apple and got it, and that’s where I started my technical career.
As well as your anthropology and tech work, you also do smaller creative projects, such as your songwriting. Do these connect to your work at all or are they just something you enjoy?
My creative side left me for many years while I was raising kids and working full time, and I’d pretty much stopped doing music due to some damage to my voice. When I got breast cancer five years ago, I rearranged my priorities. I quit my corporate job. A year later I got a mandolin and started playing it, and when the pandemic started, I took up songwriting. I don’t know why I felt like I wanted to do those things, but I really enjoy it and it’s kept me happy. I have no aspirations to become a professional or even great at music; it’s mostly for me, my friends and family.
You’ve mentioned a few ways already but is there any other way that going to St. John’s influenced you?
Currently, I’m taking care of my 95-year-old mother, and I told her I would be talking to you, and that the interview was focused mostly on my career. She said, “Just tell them that it changed your whole life!” And that’s true—it has played a role throughout all my life. My education has given me a lot of confidence and enabled me to tackle things I don’t know anything about and to solve problems that other people tend to find really intimidating. I’m not afraid to say something stupid or make mistakes, and that comes from the freedom I had as a Johnnie to make mistakes and learn how to think on my own without being told. I also learned how to use information from every possible angle. A recent example of this is that I just started a nonprofit publishing company, Aristata Press, with a friend. It grew organically out of our helping my mother, Megan McClard, publish her memoir LEAVINGS: Memoir of a 1920s Hollywood Love Child, initially as a family heirloom, and then later commercially. People started coming to us wanting our help with publishing their books, and it became our mission to help authors publish books that would be unlikely to find a home in traditional publishing houses, because they might not view them as profitable. Our authors also tend to be people who can’t navigate the hurdles of self-publishing for a variety of reasons.
What would be your advice to someone wanting to follow a similar career path?
Don’t! I’m only half joking. I think people should follow their own path. I would say that my experience at St. John’s taught me not to narrow my focus too much or too quickly. Try and keep things open, even in graduate school, and look for opportunities that cross disciplines. I feel that this approach has allowed me to stay agile and not to become too rigid or stuck. A program like St. John’s and the anthropology program I attended at Brown allow that kind of thinking.
Is there anything you would like others to know?
I’m curious—I am curious about living well, and I feel I owe a lot to my education and all the people I met through St. John’s, some of whom are still dear friends. I always go back for reunions to see the people who were with me then. It’s sad now, because we’ve started to lose some of our classmates, but it’s meaningful to me. It’s the ritual that binds us—going through the same experience (the program) helped form bonds for life.