Interviews with Dissertation Writers in UM’s Creative Writing and Literature Major
Each creative writing and literature major at UM’s Residential College has the opportunity to write a thesis in their senior year, working with an academic advisor to produce polished work. Theses can take the form of novels, short stories, collections of poetry, short stories or essays. The 2021-2022 school year saw 11 students take up the challenge. We have heard novelists and poets; finally, the authors of short stories and essays.
Grace Andreasen, “Endangered Species”
Grace Andreasen always knew what her collection of short stories was going to be about. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, she said: “I always knew the title of it. It was one of the first things I found. I applied for the honors thesis, and then I got the email a few weeks later saying I had been accepted, and the first thing that came to mind was the title of this one, that title, “Endangered Species”, refers to its topic : “young women and women navigating the world”.
Her interest in portraying these “difficult women…who may not be doing so well in life, who have many different facets and who face the most difficult situations in life” was sparked by a gift she received when she graduated. school: a collection of short stories entitled “Difficult Women” by Roxanne Gay. She similarly wanted to create a collection by women, about women, and for women – something that portrays the full humanity of women and is unafraid of all the good, bad and messy in-betweens that come with life. But she also thinks that “anyone can read it and get something out of it”, which is the “beauty of fiction: anyone can find something”.
In pursuing this ambition, Andreasen also highlighted his “ultimate inspiration”, Toni Morrison, who is his “favorite author of all time”. Reading Toni Morrison’s “Sula” in high school was the first time she read something and thought, “‘Oh my god, it’s so amazing that a human being can write like that and can do these beautiful sentences and weave this story together.'” She has since read many other Morrison books and exclaimed that ‘every sentence is just the best sentence you’ve ever read, and it’s so well done.’ She came out of all that reading thinking, “‘I’m going to do this.'”
But her interest in storytelling didn’t start in high school; it started when I was little. “Growing up, my favorite thing was when my mom read to my sister and me every night. And my whole family, my aunts, uncles and grandparents, are amazing storytellers,” she said. “So being little and sitting with them in the summer around the campfire and hearing them tell stories has always been the highlight of my life – these storytelling experiences.” As a result, she said it was “something (she) always wanted to be really good” and something that became “part of (her) identity”. “It brings me a lot of joy to write, to make up a story and then put it on a page, to say this is mine and I did this,” Andreasen said. “It’s something very powerful. And it just makes me feel very myself, and it kind of reassures me that this is who I am: I create things. With that assurance comes confidence, which she thinks more people should pursue and embrace: “I’m good at this – (it’s) a really important thing for people to have something they’re good at and to agree that they are good at it Writing one thesis in particular fueled that confidence in his writing and his decision to pursue a degree in creative writing, which society often views with scepticism, proclaiming (in Andreasen’s words), “‘Oh, you’ll never get a job.’
And although Andreason has said she feels “very exhausted” from writing at the moment – after working on her dissertation tirelessly for two semesters – her love of writing and compulsion to create doesn’t bother her. not fade easily: “Whenever I write a lot, and I feel the need to take a break, it always happens that after a few days or a few weeks or whatever, the urge always comes back and kicks in. game, and I have a new idea for something, and I have to work on it. She said that while she was taking a break right now, she was “really excited to get that feeling back, just that need to write and create something”.
It’s especially exciting as Andreasen graduates and enters post-college life, where writing projects can be much more long-term and goal-oriented — something his thesis gave him a foretaste of. taste. She said, “A lot of writing in school, undergrad… you feel like you don’t really have a place to go. It’s like you’ve written this story, and you’ve kind of finished it (even though nothing’s ever really finished), and then it’s like, ‘Okay, now what?’ You’re right on to the next… you get the grade, then the lesson is over. Her thesis broke her out of that mould: “Having this thesis that I’ve been working on all year… felt like the cornerstone of my senior year and my entire college experience. Working towards something tangible, having a tangible thesis at the end, was very rewarding. She hopes to return to the project with renewed energy and fresh eyes and work towards its publication.
You can read an excerpt from “Endangered Species” here.
Cielle Waters-Umfleet, “Battles of which we can only see the wreckage”
Cielle Waters-Umfleet was the only creative writing major to produce a nonfiction thesis. “Fiction – when you get to it – is really great,” she said in an interview with The Daily. “But I like non-fiction because it’s something that’s real and easy to connect to.” Waters-Umfleet acknowledges that this goes against what many people think of when they hear the term ‘non-fiction’: “They think it’s just textbooks and very deep reading, but it’s not is not always the case.” As editor-in-chief of What is the F, an on-campus magazine that publishes personal essays, she saw the enormous potential of non-fiction. She finds herself inspired to create her own stories and delve into the kind of gritty, intimate subject matter her magazine publishes.
In coming up with ideas for specific essays, she said she asked herself, “What do I care about? What have I experienced that I would like to reach a wider audience with? There’s a balance to be struck between self and audience: “I once read a quote that said, ‘Your writing is a love letter to yourself.’ And what that means is that it’s your art, it’s your product and it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. At the same time, however, she hopes that her essays can reach others in the same way that the essays she has read have reached him.
But a collection of personal essays wasn’t always what she thought this dissertation was going to be. “When I applied, I submitted a room idea inspired by an ancestor of mine who I discovered who is only known as ‘Dorothea Unknown’ because her maiden name was lost. And I was just thinking about how many women in history have lost parts of their identities over time just because they got married. But she quickly decided that wasn’t the right one. time for this project. This move from playwright to essayist reaffirmed a lesson often learned the hard way in creative fields: “You change, your experiences change, your situation is different. Don’t be afraid if your first idea isn’t not your best idea, because it won’t be.
This is both particularly important and particularly difficult advice to apply in the fast-paced and limited environment of academic writing, where writers are often not “able to necessarily take the time to draft and develop articles as much as (they) would have liked before having them reviewed. “Part of that made me reluctant to do my job,” Waters-Umfleet admitted. “I mean, obviously the first draft isn’t perfect, there’s no perfect writing, but when you take a half-finished piece and you’re criticized, it doesn’t make you super excited to finish it.” As a result, she’s “really looking forward to being able to write on her own terms…I think it will be good for me to reconnect with writing on my own terms.”
Unfortunately, leaving academia also means giving up some of her main source of inspiration: “Just being with other RC writers, and especially being a magazine editor… we have so much talent on this campus. I think just being in that environment was my inspiration. Her other inspiration, however, will stay with her wherever she goes. When asked who inspired her, Waters-Umfleet immediately turned to her mother. “She’s not famous at all,” she laughs, “But she blogs, and I think we both have the same understated style. Like, what we say isn’t what we say. we say really, and it depends on the reader to draw conclusions.
Looking ahead, Waters-Umfleet said she hopes to publish some of her work – although everything is still up in the air. “Some of the essays are quite personal, like one of them was about my struggles with depression…and while I was ready to put it in my thesis, I don’t know if I’m really ready to submit this one. to a wider audience.” Still, she says, she has a lot to say, and people’s reactions to the work she’s already shared has been the most rewarding part of this whole process: “It’s just good to know that these things that I kept for myself for a while are ready to be seen and heard by other people.
You can read an excerpt from Waters-Umfleet’s thesis here.
Daily Arts editor Brenna Goss can be reached at [email protected].