MFA Creative Writing students Kevin Binder, Lena Crown, Amanda Ganus, Jihoon Park, and Leah Sumrall have each earned 2021 Summer Research Fellowships from Mason’s Office of the Provost. The fellowships provide $5000 in support for students to devote significant time to research and work toward their thesis. After completion of their fellowships, Master’s students will then present a poster or make an oral presentation about their work at the 2022 Mason Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference.
Congratulations to all our MFA fellows, who shared some of their plans for the summer ahead.
I’m planning on using the time I’ve gained from winning this fellowship to work on my thesis project full-time over the summer. Throughout my life, writing has always been my “second thing”—even at Mason I’ve had to balance it with my graduate TA responsibilities—so this summer will be the first time in my life where writing will be my top priority. And so, I plan to spend this time over the summer months creating a polished draft of the first ten chapters of the novel that will be my thesis project. In addition, because my thesis project is a futuristic dystopian work critiquing American society’s usage of technology to detach from the hardships of the real world, for research I’ll be reading both fiction and nonfiction texts about virtual realities and technology similar to what appears in my work. The one thing I find ironic about the whole thing is, in order to write a novel satirizing our society’s inclination to detach itself from reality, I’ll be spending an entire summer hunkered down in an artificial environment of my own making: hunkered down at my desk, staring at a computer all day. The things we do for our art!
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to return to St. Louis this summer to conduct archival and observational research for my thesis project, a book-length personal essay centered on my time in the Midwest. I’ll be utilizing the resources at the Missouri History Museum and elsewhere to examine the construction of the city’s interstate highways and several local landmarks. I’m also planning to interview local artists who create installation work on the relationship between the city’s landscape and the body.
This summer I will be interviewing and profiling members of the American Hikikomori (Japanese term for people withdrawn from society) community to better understand and write one of the central characters in my thesis novel. I also hope to write some journalistic pieces about my interviews and profiles to raise awareness of how this problem, despite being associated with East Asian cultures, is also a growing issue in America as well.
I plan to use my fellowship to take a big road trip to visit cemeteries. Cemeteries have fascinated me for most of my life, and I’ve recently become interested in the social and cultural contexts of the ways we bury and remember our dead. My big destinations are Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Boston and Philadelphia, with some smaller stops like my maternal grandmother’s hometown in rural Georgia along the way. My end goal is to create a collection of connected essays discussing the social, cultural, and historical significance of the places I visit with an additional thread of my personal experience with cemeteries throughout my life. I’m incredibly grateful that the university has given me this opportunity, and I’m excited to get on the road!
I’ll be using the fellowship funds to continue work on my thesis project, a slipstream/sci-fi novel titled Astraea Underground. The book tells the story of three interconnected characters whose lives are ripped apart by fifteen years of political turmoil. It explores the long-term impacts of trauma on individuals, families, and societies. While the speculative science and settings in the book are based on research, my work this summer will focus on character: intergenerational family psychology, trauma, addiction, and politics. I’ll also be working through a craft study reading list focused on the use of multiple first-person narrators throughout modern literary history.
May 16, 2021