When creative writing major Matthew Mitchell ’20 chose to write about Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir “Fun Home” in his Introduction to Literature class last spring, he had no idea how far the paper would take him.
With encouragement and advice from his instructor, Kirsten Parkinson, Ph.D., John S. Kenyon Professor of English, Mitchell continued to work on his paper, titled “Bruce Bechdel’s ‘Happy Death’ in ‘Fun Home’” well after the literature course ended. This week, Mitchell will travel to St. Louis, Missouri to present his paper at the Midwest Popular Culture Association 2017 conference.
Though Mitchell has read his writings in front of audiences before — as a winner of Hiram’s Vachel Lindsay poetry and Barbara Thompson short fiction contests last year — this will be his first time presenting at and attending an academic conference.
“Getting into this conference helped me see there’s so much more I can do with my writing and my expectations for myself are higher now,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell will have 20 minutes to present his paper, which draws parallels between the life and writing of philosopher Albert Camus and the final moments of “Fun Home” character Bruce Bechdel’s life, which ends tragically in suicide.
“Camus is an absurdist writer and Bruce Bechdel is an absurd person,” Mitchell assesses.
Mitchell notes that over the past few months his paper has grown and changed a lot. His ideas on the topic have become more complex. He says that Dr. Parkinson was instrumental in both the revision and submission processes, helping him write an abstract and refine his ideas.
“Matt is a dedicated student who goes the extra mile. In Introduction to Literary Studies, he regularly came to talk to me about his essays outside of class. He also read an extra novel in order to write the essay that he will be presenting at the conference. Those are marks of someone who is really interested in learning and growing as a thinker and writer,” says Dr. Parkinson.
Dr. Parkinson is a big believer in getting students work outside of the classroom and into the world. She regularly encourages students in 200-300 level classes to submit their essays to conferences and journals. In her 400-level class, students are required to submit an essay to a conference.
“That moment of getting an acceptance can be a great confidence boost; it tells students that their ideas matter to the larger world,” Dr. Parkinson says.
Most students, including Mitchell, are able to get some funding from sources such as the Venci-Carr fund or the College’s recent Mellon Foundation grant to cover travel, lodging, and conference attendance fees.