For Seanna Viechweg ’19, her senior thesis, “I’m a long way from home”: Seeking Belonging in the Afterlives of Slavery in Octavia Butler’s Kindred,” was an opportunity for her personal and academic interests to complement each other.
Rather than researching a conventional piece of literature for her thesis, the English major was attracted to the prospect of writing on African American Science Fiction, which maintains an underrepresented presence in literary communities. Viechweg became invested in this topic after taking “The New Black Arts Movement: Expressive Culture After Black Nationalism” with Associate Professor of English Asali Solomon, who would later become her thesis advisor.
“The summer after taking this course, I read Butler’s Kindred, as recommended by Professor Solomon,” she said. “Because I have always been drawn to writing about kinship, trauma, intergenerational theory, slavery, and Black-being in my Haverford career, Kindred ultimately became the focus of my thesis topic given its embodiment of all these themes.”
Viechweg’s personal summer reading developed gradually into a multifaceted academic argument, becoming at one point a 100-page document of notes before being condensed into its finished form. It’s important to her, however, that these two manners of approaching a text never become entirely distinct from one another.
“My passion in Black sci fi and speculative fiction was forged through courses I deemed as ‘fun’—specifically Professor Solomon’s courses… as well as courses taken [during my semester] abroad in Barbados,” she said. “They were courses taken purely out of interest rather than my attempt to fulfill Haverford requirements or requirements related to the English major.”
Dedication to what personally compels her gave Viechweg a vital thrust to both produce her thesis and continue a pursuit of the similar concepts following graduation. A recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, she’ll be heading to Barbados to investigate Caribbean sci-fi and speculative fiction.
“As an aspiring academic, I am leaving Haverford extremely grateful for pushing myself to take courses that eventually forged my passion in African American and Caribbean literature,” Viechweg reflected. “I believe all Haverford students should be pushed to take the courses that excite them as they figure out their academic interests.”
What did you learn from working on your thesis?
From working on my thesis, I learned how easy it is to feel overwhelmed or trapped by the process of research—in my case, I am referring to my 100-page Word document filled with notes from various theorists and scholars. Because I started my thesis during the summer of 2018 at the University of Chicago, I spent a lot of time consulting what others have said about Kindred, as well as theory related to slavery and Black sci fi. While I assumed the amount of research I performed provided me an advantage when starting the process of writing, my thesis advisor showed me that I needed to work on foregrounding my own voice which is feedback I intend to revisit as I revise my thesis, as well as approach future research projects.
What are the implications of your thesis research?
My thesis research can help other researchers and academics by demonstrating the importance of utilizing Black sci-fi as a way to engage with traumatic histories. Because science fiction as a field has previously been overwhelmingly white in both its content and writers, my thesis research demonstrates the value of studying Black sci-fi and speculative fiction as a way to grapple with identity politics, as well as the histories of marginalized communities in our contemporary moment.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.