By Katie Catulle ’24

A year ago, as I crafted my senior thesis proposal, it was never a question of if I would write one. I was excited by the opportunity to work closely on a project entirely of my creation as a capstone to my college experience. The only question was what it would look like. Would I write a critical thesis analyzing a canonical piece of writing, or would I write a creative thesis to tell my own story?

Ultimately, I decided to do both—a critical thesis and an independent project in fiction writing. Senior Lecturer Claire Messud kindly agreed to advise a semester-long project to focus on revising my short story collection Leaving, Staying. We met weekly in her office to discuss my work, spending half of the time talking about ideas for revision for one piece and the other half talking about the revision from the previous week.

This ended up being one of the most meaningful opportunities of my college experience. It was such a privilege to work with Professor Messud, who approached my work with such care and attention. Beyond the line-level feedback, the experience taught me how to approach creative revision, a skill that will be foundational as a future writer. It is also such a wonderful feeling to be able to look at my 180-page collection and think, wow I wrote all that?

My senior thesis was similarly rewarding far beyond my expectations. I worked with Professor James Wood on the topic of autofiction, an experimental subgenre of the novel that blends autobiography and fiction, and Elena Ferrante, a pseudonymous contemporary Italian writer. I explored whether we could consider Ferrante’s fiction as autofiction, despite not knowing the author’s “real identity.”

The two projects ended up becoming much more interwoven than I originally intended. Professor Wood knew about my interest in creative writing and encouraged more flexibility with the formal experimentation from the writing of the thesis itself. I cannot ignore the influence my critical thesis has had on my creative writing—from the seeping effect of the autofictional books I have read throughout the process, to Ferrante’s awe-inspiring fiction, to the questions about form and fictional reality at the center of my thesis. These are questions at the heart of all fiction, but I just had a closer attention to them because of my autofiction thesis.

The opportunity to work closely with such renowned experts in writing as Claire Messud and James Wood has been a truly exceptional experience. I never would have imagined, even a few years ago, that I would be finishing my senior year with two substantial pieces of writing, a culmination of the support of my advisors and my growth at Harvard.   



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