The desire to bridge disciplinary divides and write about disease are what led Nina Potischman ’21 to apply for the prestigious Marshall Scholarship. Her application was successful, and with that award in hand, she will be crossing the pond next year to the United Kingdom for graduate study.
Potischman, an English major, had known for a while she wanted to attend graduate school and eventually become a professor. But looking at American programs left her torn. Should she pursue her interest in creative writing through an MFA program or take the Ph.D. in literary criticism route? Looking at scholarships in the UK, she says she learned that the disciplinary divide between creative and critical writing was more distinctively American.
“Because creative writing programs in the UK predominantly emerged in the '90s alongside the rise of theory, theory is more directly integrated into institutional practice. As a result, UK creative writing programs are more interdisciplinary than their American counterparts, less bound by institutional orthodoxy, and more open to integrating critical and literary writing,” Potischman says.
Studying in the UK would allow her to fully realize her creative vision, as well as permit her to earn two master’s degrees in both of her creative and critical interests. Potischman will spend her first year at University of Exeter and her second year at University of Sussex and will build on her undergraduate research she began surrounding autoimmune illness.
“When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis my sophomore year of college, I lost control of my body. Yet through writing—about my body, pain, taboo and food—I held onto my sense of self. After I was hospitalized multiple times for a severe flare of my illness [while] abroad, I decided to combine my writing about my own experiences with chronic illness literature focusing on autoimmunity,” says Potischman.
That work became her thesis, in which she explored how “chronic pain caused by an autoimmune disorder reconfigures prevailing models of self and body.” With the Marshall Scholarship, Potischman plans to convert her thesis into a book-length piece of autotheory, a form of writing that combines autobiography and prose with theory. Potischman says she wants to use this style of writing “to cut against theoretical work that abstracts away from the materiality of the body.”
“When I consider what I want to do with my life, the answer is clear: I want to write. As I continue to focus on illness in my writing, I will push to make disability narratives and disability studies theory more prominent within both creative writing and the study of contemporary literature.”
Potischman hopes to become part of a network of scholars in the UK that collaborates on work relating to chronic illness in literature. Because of her diagnosis, Potischman will receive intravenous medication every six weeks when she is abroad, so she will become intimately familiar with the National Health Service (NHS), the publicly funded healthcare system of the UK. She anticipates that combination of lived experience in both the U.S. and Britain and her theoretical background will become a platform for future healthcare advocacy work and will inform her writing.
Potischman will arrive in England with some considerable experience. Potischman began writing a novel her sophomore year at Pomona College and completed it last year. The book, inspired by her experience in high school debate, is currently under review by agents.
She notes that Pomona has vast resources to support student work.
“SURP [Summer Undergraduate Research Program] and independent studies have been invaluable in my own work and allowed me to work one-on-one with professors on topics of interest.”
Setting aside her “terrible journals and a terrible novel I wrote in fifth grade,” Potischman says she had little writing experience and was intimidated to take her first creative writing class with acclaimed novelist Jonathan Lethem, the Roy Edward Disney '51 Professor of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Pomona. But if she had to offer words of wisdom to incoming students she’d say,
“Go to office hours! And try doing things even if you’re afraid you’re not good enough.”
Marshall Scholarships finance young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. Up to 50 scholars are selected each year to study at graduate level at an UK institution in any field of study.