Skip to toolbar

What Are LitLabs?

LitLabs are interdisciplinary teaching projects that orchestrate guest experts from the experimental humanities, architecture, urban research, and the visual performing arts to imagine pedagogy for reaching new audiences of the long-form 19th-century novel, especially the 21st-century urban teen reader of South LA. Under the direction of Jacqueline Barrios, public school teacher, and UCLA Ph.D. student, and with the support of the Dickens Project and other collaborators, seniors of Foshay Learning Center and scholars in the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative culminate the study of their learning of this under-taught genre in an annual production, exhibition, and festival that blend the visual performing arts and urban studies, showcasing the interdisciplinary forms of knowledge enabled by a single literary work. These public humanities events draw diverse audiences —from K-12 students and university scholars to artists, activists, educators, and South LA families—to support and learn from students in their role as producers of these newest forms of literary knowledge in and for their community.

As part of its collaboration with the Dickens Project, NAI’s seniors pen essays for a competition to attend the annual Dickens Universe conference, hosted at UC Santa Cruz. Essay winners earn an all-expenses-paid spot at the Dickens Universe for a communal investigation of Dickens’s novel in an immersive, college-like environment.

This Dickens Universe scholarship is the culmination of the NAI-Dickens Project collaboration, which works to energize the scholarship of literature within communities and to address the broader implications of such work when considering the equity of access to, and future of education in the humanities.



USC NAI is a seven-year college access program for students attending public school in South and East Los Angeles. Students who remain in good standing within the program from sixth grade to graduation are eligible for full scholarships to USC. Since its first graduating class in 1997, nearly 1,000 students have completed USC NAI, 83 percent of whom were enrolled as freshmen at four-year universities.



Foshay Learning Center is the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) K-12 urban learning center situated in the Jefferson Park less than a mile from USC, and is a USC Family of Five neighborhood school. It is the public school affiliated with the USC NAI program in South LA, sending more first year USC students than any other high school as the campus’s top feeder institute in 2017.



Foshay seniors in the USC NAI program cap their academic preparation in English Language Arts as students in AP English Literature. In partnership with the Dickens Project, they read and study the assigned Victorian novel of that year’s Dickens Universe conference in their AP English literature class. To enrich the study of the novel, the immersive LitLab experience includes projects with university faculty and students, classroom swaps, field trips, guest scholars, advanced literary intensives, and visual and performing arts adaptations. LitLabs is directed by Jacqueline Jean Barrios, AP English teacher, director and Ph.D. candidate at UCLA.

Jacqueline Barrios

Portrait of Jacqueline BarriosJacqueline Barrios is a PhD student at UCLA’s Department of English studying London and 19C British/American literature. Her current project investigates London-Pacific transurban imaginaries—geographies of East Asian Pacific Rim entanglement with the British capital. She has written about scavengers, servants and other minor figures and is tracing these figural tropes in linked urban contexts, as well as experimental pedagogies in urban sound scavenging, materialist poetics and the novel through methods gleaned from material and archival practices of authors and artists. Jacqueline is a research associate with UCLA’s Urban Humanities Initiative (UHI), a research program linking architecture, urban planning and humanities scholars on city-based inquiry. She leads with others the UHI SALON, fostering engagement with urban humanities theory and practices within and outside the academy, with the Digital SALON, an online format featuring the podcast, launching in the summer of 2020. Her interdisciplinary interests connect her research to her other role as a veteran public school teacher of underrepresented youth in South Los Angeles, for whom she directs LitLabs, fusing visual performing arts and public humanities to imagine new pedagogy for the 21st century urban teen reader of the 19th century novel.