Imitating Literature

I went to the same high school as James Agee, and when I was seventeen, I re-lived The Morning Watch.  With a few friends, I kept vigil in the Lady Chapel, kneeling before the spring flowers collected illicitly from the yards of neighbors.  Just before sunrise, we left the chapel and went out into the still darkness.  We walked along the old railroad path through the woods until we came to the Sand Cut, and we jumped in—it was as cold as Agee had promised.  Shivering, euphoric, I returned to campus and attended my first period class, my hair still wet from the Ageean baptism.

At that time in my life, I showed my passion for literature through imitation.  I wanted to re-create the narratives that were significant to me, to praise them through replication. Then, as an undergraduate at [redacted] College, I found more complex connections in texts through analysis rather than simple imitation.  I studied writers like Margaret Atwood, M.F.K Fisher, and Tennessee Williams through a variety of critical lenses. I concentrated on gender studies and drama, particularly in 20th– and 21st-century American texts, and I completed coursework in literary criticism, 20th-century drama, fiction, poetry, and playwriting.

Since graduation, my career in the fine arts has further refined my literary interests.  From working on August Wilson’s 20th-century cycle of plays at the [redacted] Center for the Performing Arts, to promoting new productions like Next to Normal and Looped at [redacted] Stage, to publicizing VSA commissions from playwrights and performers with disabilities, I’ve experienced the vibrancy and relevance of the arts today; not only are new works being created, but familiar texts are constantly being interpreted and re-told.  I no longer want only to replicate literature or dissect it: I want to participate in the ongoing literary discussion.

From my work in theater and disability, I’ve developed an interest in adaptation—adapting novels to plays and adapting environments to suit physical capabilities.  For example, one possible study that interests me is how Carson McCullers’ fiction translates to the stage and the relationship between her personal experience with disability and her fictional portrayal of disability.  Another is how James Agee’s work in film differs from his fiction and how his experience as a Southerner in the early 20th century informed his work.  I’d like to explore how individuals adapt to society, in texts like Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away and William Faulkner’s Light in August, as well as how individuals adapt to their landscapes, whether it’s a thriving relationship in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia or a debilitating one in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.   The landscape can change the rhythm, the tone, the very syntax of the work.  The land and the body, the set and the characters—these are the elements of literature that intrigue me.

It’s both humbling and empowering to assert that I deserve to be part of your program.  Since both my mother and sister received their doctorates from [redacted] (in chemistry and medicine, respectively), I’ve long been aware of what an exceptional university this is.  [redacted] boasts an impressive faculty, and I am most interested in studying under Dr. [redacted], Dr. [redacted], and Dr. [redacted], since, as this essay makes apparent, I’m drawn to Southern literature.  It would be an honor to learn from Dr. [redacted], whose scholarship on Southern writers from H.L Mencken to William Faulkner has distinguished him in the field.  I admire Dr. [redacted]’s blending of history, biography, and geography to create a full representation of a literary genre, and I would love to learn more about gender and queer theory with Dr. [redacted], who writes fascinating analyses of sexual politics.  [Redacted] has strengths in my key areas of interest, and I’m eager to pursue the best possible training as a scholar and teacher.

My goal is to become an educator.  My experience as a middle school English teacher revealed to me that I enjoy teaching as much as I have always enjoyed learning.  I am equally engaged in the solitary work of literature, the reading, writing, revising, and researching, and the social elements of education, the collaborating, challenging, discussing, and informing.  I aspire to engage fully in academic life, in both my relationships with texts and my relationships with faculty and students.  If I can leave you with one thought, it’s this: I am completely invested in this work.  I want to study, diligently and earnestly, and then I want to share that knowledge.  I’m ready to jump in.


This essay received an offer of admission from a top 15 program.

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