The first time I wrote a paper for fun, I was in eighth grade. Actually, I wrote three. They were “character analysis” essays that I wrote to share with one of my friends, who had read the existing Harry Potter books on my request (by request, read “incessant badgering”) and found, to my delight, that she loved them as much as I did. I’m pretty sure I have the very first one I wrote (“Ron Ponderings”) in my bin of weird-mementos-I-should-probably-throw-away-but-won’t. Everything that I can remember about it fills me with the indulgent fondness with which I believe we should all regard our past selves. I remember my rush of excitement as I began to type out my thoughts into a daringly iconoclastic form (i.e., not a five-paragraph essay). All of the things I did in school were things I could do on my own, except about things I liked.
Two years later, an English teacher irritated me by making disparaging comments about both children’s lit and fantasy. (Side note: did anyone else run into this attitude in high school? I could never understand why someone would want to teach teenagers yet hold such contempt for the things they liked to read.) So when the opportunity for an extra credit assignment came up, I did the only logical thing and wrote nine essays. Three were about Lord of the Rings, three about the Prydain Chronicles, and three again about Harry Potter. My intended point was that children’s literature and fantasy had just as much depth as ~classics, because I have never changed even once in my entire life. I’m 99% sure that this teacher didn’t read a single word of the essays, but he did give his unbearable student the extra credit.
To me, creative and academic thought are the intertwined trunks of a beautiful old tree. When I am sad and weary, I can wedge myself between them and take shelter in the hollow space within, taking shelter as I make sense of the world once more through stories and theories. When I am excited and sure of myself, I can climb to the highest branches, supported by the words and ideas of those who came before me. At those times, I am sure that I, too, can make this tree grow.
All of this is to say that I’m pretty damn sure I made a good decision when I applied for PhD programs. And I am so happy and grateful and excited to say that the work I put into getting to this point has paid off: in the fall, I will begin pursuing my doctorate in Childhood Studies at Rutgers University.
You better believe that some jumping up and down and screaming greeted that email.
Meanwhile, my first published paper is due to appear very soon in University of Toronto Quarterly’s special edition on monster studies. (I signed my author agreement and everything! There’s an introduction that refers to “Kellett’s argument”!) I’ll also be presenting at this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts and Children’s Literature Association conference (about Orphan Black and Six of Crows, respectively — still writing about things I like!). I’m 100% convinced that every paper I write and class I take makes my novels stronger, and that they in turn sharpen my academic analyses.
So the best future I can imagine for myself is to never, ever stop doing either.