Wittenberg offers an array of paths for their students to pursue, but my favorite to follow is the one in the English Department. This group of thirteen professors is one of the most open-minded and accepting bunch of people I’ve ever seen. Each professor has their own niche, but will casually debate with their co-workers and students alike, and everyone is excited when someone discovers a new way of interpreting a piece of literature or experiments with their own creative work.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the English Department offers an option for a creative thesis.
There is a catch though: it’s an Honors thesis. But frankly, there’s no way writing a book, a collection of poems, or a collection of non-fiction or short stories shouldn’t be considered an Honors worthy task. Especially with a novel and all the research, effort, and time involved.
With the Honors thesis you’re asked to fall back on former coursework to help you craft the behemoth of work for your senior year. My thesis, the beginnings of a novel, follows the story of two young, ambitious Londoners as they try to rise through the social ranks and stop a royal assassination. A late Young Adult speculative fiction piece, Twisted plays with more than just a who-done-it mystery. The piece works with themes of gender roles inspired by Lost in the Fun House Mirror, taught by Dr. Kate Polak; the roles of stereotypes, social oppression, and dehumanization prevalent in Postcolonial Literature and Theory, taught by Dr. Ian MacDonald, and experiments with these themes in an idealized, egalitarian political society akin to that imagined by William Godwin, who I learned about in Dr. Rick Incorvati’s Anarchy of the UK, a course on Romantic Literature.
Spinning these themes into a speculative future allows for me, as a writer, to do what I love most—experiment.
I can ask myself questions such as: What happens if racism is displaced? Who would bear the brunt of it? What happens if women were in power positions more often than men? How would wars work? Would women still feel socially insecure at times? Would men’s speech be filtered instead? How can an egalitarian society be structured to still promote opportunity for all yet still support a class system?
These questions are what originally drive Twisted. I draw on my notes of past classes that I enjoyed (keep those things close, seriously. They come in handy). I also experiment with the trending diagnosis of hysteria that was popular during the 1920s, allowing for one of my characters to become paranoid to the point of madness, and question what brings this descent on—his ostracism? His fall from an upper to lower class? Or is it his own fears of judgment or never being able to amount to anything without the status he once held?
As a writer, these questions play in my head on loop, with my fiction providing a vacuum space to experiment with how these scenarios play out. I, of course, am required to support my decisions for the events and smaller notes in the novel by writing a minimum of ten pages as an introduction, including research on the subjects that inspired the piece, and defend the thesis this spring in front of a panel of three faculty readers.
But the best thing is, the creative Honors thesis allows me to use an outlet I’ve so desperately craved over the last couple years.
In 2008, I started writing works of young adult fiction that I originally thought were masterpieces and now regard as valiant attempts, but trash. In the last eight years, I’ve grown so much as a writer, completing a novel and a half per year on average. My junior year at Wittenberg took up a lot of my time, so no novel was written and I felt like I was drowning because of it. The creative thesis allows for me to immerse myself in creative writing again, and set my own schedule. There’s no professor telling me I need to write a certain number of words by a specific date; that’s all up to me—my only requirements are to reach a 20,000 word minimum (roughly a quarter of an average novel), and write a ten page (minimum) introduction before April. I, of course, want to get as much as the novel written as humanly possible before then, so I’m shooting for a solid 60,000 words by then, but we’ll see how close I get. I’m ambitious.
If you’re a writer or a poet and you’re dedicated to your craft (and missing it by the time you reach your junior year) I highly recommend looking into the Honors Thesis. So far it’s been worth every word I’ve written.
– Hannah Hunt ’16