Mentor / Lab:
Dr. Janet Alsup
Specific Research Area / Project:
Magical Realism in Young Adult Literature
University of Texas, Austin
My Master’s project focused on what I see as an increased fascination in contemporary young adult literature with the presence and action of magic and the supernatural in our “Primary World” (J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”). This potential shift is particularly intriguing to me because of its interesting relationship to the mid-to-late 1960s movement on the part of many young adult and children’s literature authors toward a “new realism.” These writers adopted the style of new realism because, they argued, children need information, not protective taboos on speech; new realist authors contended that to keep children safe we must prepare and inform them. Many such authors, including Robert Cormier (The Chocolate War) and Ellen Howard (Gillyflower), maintained that keeping children in a hermetically sealed bubble of innocence actually places those children at risk, leaving them unprepared for the ugliness and danger of the world. As a result, their novels are frequently bleak yet powerful. In the last few of decades, however, “new realism” seems to be shifting, at least in part, toward a more “magical” realism: novels in which young adults come to deal not solely with the realistic and the material, but also with an unseen or unrecognized element of the fantastic present in and functioning throughout the “real world.” Reaching new heights of popularity and visibility with the publication of Harry Potter, many of these magically real young adult texts depict both the danger and ugliness of a “real world” wherein adults are treacherous, untrustworthy, or just plain clueless, and the simultaneous presence and power of a chaotic magical force functioning in and throughout that same space. Rather than limiting the magical to a separate, “fantastic realm” the child protagonist(s) travels to and then returns from (ex. Narnia), YA novels like Sherman Alexie’s Flight show the fantastic to be present and active in our own, Primary World. I explored the ways this intrusive magical element might act as a potential means by which authors can both prepare young readers and, simultaneously, provide them with the hope and empowerment magical power and fantasy make possible.
The students and faculty of the American Studies and Women’s Studies programs, as well as a number of the individuals I have met in the English department more generally, have formed a welcoming and supportive community that has truly made my graduate experience more fulfilling and productive. At Purdue, I have benefitted from a number of amazingly gifted teachers, and have had numerous experiences in which a fellow student has offered me helpful suggestions and inspiring questions that have enabled me to strengthen my work. I hope I can provide similar support and assistance to others in the future, but, in the words of fellow academic Albus Dumbledore, “There is a time for speech-making, and this is not it. Tuck in!”
- 2013 Certificate of Excellence in American Studies Research, Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Spring Reception
- McKee, Arielle. “First Opinion: The Power of Poetry in Inside Out and Back Again.” First Opinions, Second Reactions 5.2 (2012). 6-8. Web.
- McKee, Arielle. “First Opinion: The Lunar-Centric World of You Have Seven Messages.” First Opinions, Second Reactions 5.1 (2012). 15-17. Web.
- McKee, Arielle. “The Kind of Movie Everybody Thneeds?: Ecocriticism, Class, and The Lorax.” Purdue Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Spring Reception. April 1, 2013. Poster Session.
- “The Kind of Movie Everybody Thneeds?: Ecocriticism, Class, and The Lorax.” Purdue American Studies Symposium: Academics IRL. April 19, 2013. Panel: “The Media is the Mirror: American Studies and American Crises as Represented in Popular Film and Television.”
- Invited Facilitator/Speaker. WRN Book Club 2013 – Exploring the Continents: Diverse Women Writers in the Americas. Facilitator: “Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri.” Sponsored by Purdue’s Butler Center for Leadership Excellence https://www.purdue.edu/butler/. April 18, 2013
- American Studies Graduate Student Org., Officer: AMST PGSG Representative (SY 2012-2013)
- Purdue Graduate Student Government (PGSG), American Studies Senator (SY 2012-2013)
- PGSG Grant Review and Allocations Committee (GRAC), Recorder and Member (SY 2012-2013)
- Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Student Advisory Board, Chair (SY 2011-2012, 2012-2013)
- American Studies Historian/Archivist Committee (SY 2013-14)