What They Learned: Claire Nicholas ’21

The English major’s thesis investigates what makes Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” such a formative reading experience and temporally distinctive work of poetry.

There’s nothing better than immersing yourself in a good book, just ask Claire Nicholas ‘21! The English major and visual studies minor fell in love with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric after reading it in two different classes. Titled, “’Memory is a tough place. You were there’: Reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, a Living Archive,” her English thesis analyses the qualities and techniques that make it such an immersive reading experience. 

“My thesis research suggests that a book like Citizen can become more than just a two-dimensional experience for the reader, and the content on the pages has a new and real livelihood each time it is opened by a new person,” said Nicholas. “For Citizen, the reader has the opportunity to become the “you” on the page, the speaker of each situation that plays out. So each time Citizen is opened and read, the memories on the page are re-lived. Thus they are never erased.”

Nicholas worked in conjunction with her thesis advisor, Professor of English Christina Zwarg. Together, they sifted through vague ideas until a strong, cohesive project formed. 

“She kept encouraging me, saying that I really was on the right track with my research and the development of my argument, and that was really key for my mindset throughout the year,” said Nicholas. “Alongside her encouragement, she also offered straightforwardness and wasn’t afraid to say, ‘You better do this soon!’ Sometimes it helps to have that push.” 

Support also came from a group of friends who endured the stressful moments together. “My thesis group, which included Caroline Ford and Julia Giordano, had a group chat that we would text in every single day from the moment we made it—I actually don’t think I could’ve done it without the lighthearted chatter, moments of shared panic, and encouragement when it was needed most,” said Nicholas. 

What did you learn from working on your thesis? 
I definitely learned about organization in general, aside from within the writing itself. I learned that keeping a tidy calendar, categorizing research items, and putting certain handouts or drafts in specific folders is extremely helpful…Thesis is all about trusting the process. You can really go from a state of total disorder to a sense of control and then right back in a matter of days—what matters is, at the end you will have a thesis, and you will have cultivated and maintained it from its very early days, and you will be proud of it. 

What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do helping to guide your future career path?
In the future, I hope to work in journalism. I am freelancing at Philadelphia Magazine until the end of August, and then I hope to pursue a full-time opportunity thereafter. Certain parts of my thesis have reminded me of the importance of accurate and objective documentation and representation, and it’s something that’s important to keep in mind in my field. Moreover, the yearlong process of working on a project this size has helped me with my stamina in staring at Word documents for long periods of time and still producing meaningful and accurate content after all those hours.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates