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Former foster child receives second Lemn Sissay PhD Scholarship

Lemn Sissay and Nick Stavris Lemn Sissay (left) is pictured with the recipient of this year's 'The Lemn Sissay PhD Scholarship for Care Leavers' - PhD student Nick Stavris.

Mon, 20 Oct 2014 16:21:00 BST

Nick Stavris will explore how traumatic experience, like 9/11, has influenced two contemporary novelists, Jonathan Coe and Jonathan Franzen 

9/11 memorial THE 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers had massive geopolitical ramifications (see the memorial pictured right), but did they also change the way that leading writers looked at the world?  This is one of the themes of a doctoral project at the University of Huddersfield that will be undertaken by a student who receives a very special award. 

The Lemn Sissay PhD Scholarship for Care Leavers takes its name from the leading poet and playwright – himself brought up in care homes – who has a close relationship with the University of Huddersfield.   

Jonathan Coe There were applicants from around the UK for the second Lemn Sissay Scholarship, which has now been awarded to former foster child Nick Stavris who is passionate about literature and who earned the scholarship for a project in which he will analyse the works of two leading contemporary novelists – Jonathan Coe (pictured left) from the UK and the American Jonathan Franzen (pictured below right).   

Nick will examine the evolution of their writing and the influence of traumatic experience and a particular strand of his research will be the aftermath and influence of the 9/11 attacks. 

“I am looking at how their literature may have changed in the last ten years,” said Nick.  “Coe and Franzen were both quite well known for post-modern literature, but somewhere along the lines their fiction has altered to become directed toward realism.  I am looking at why and what this means for the future of literature. 

Jonathan Franzen “Franzen’s more recent work is based on the family and it is very much around his own experiences, whereas Coe’s, as far as I am aware, is not much to do with his personal history.  But they both write in traumatic styles based on traumatic experiences. 

“I think that 9/11 has had quite a bearing on how literature has turned out and I believe that it may well be a watershed for writing in general,” added Nick. 

Foster care never held me back 

Nick Stavris, aged 27, is from Leeds and, at the age of nine, after his parents split and his mother developed addiction problems, he went into foster care. 

“It had its ups and downs, but I am the way I am now because I was brought up in care.  My foster mother was very caring and brought me on in a number of ways.  I was always interested in literature and foster care never held me back in any way,” said Nick, who had developed a passion for reading by the age of four. 

After school and college he studied for a University of Huddersfield BA in English Literature, and followed this with a Master’s by Research, in which he probed post-modernism and trauma theory and gave him a profound interest in the intricacies of critical and cultural theory.   

Post-modernism and trauma theory are themes which are at the heart of his full-time PhD and the Sissay Scholarship covers his fees and provides a bursary of £13,700 per year.  Also, Nick has been working with his PhD supervisor, Dr David Rudrum, on a book that looks at developments in literature that follow post-modernism. 

Nick – whose career goals include lecturing and further academic research – was delighted to meet Lemn Sissay when the poet paid his recent visit to the University – “he’s a larger-than-life character, but an absolutely brilliant writer!” said Nick. 

Lemn Sissay has had a long association with the University, delivering several inspirational lectures and, in 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate.  On his latest visit, Lemn Sissay gave a public reading of his poem Let There Be Peace, now permanently inscribed in large lettering on the University’s Creative Arts Building (which can be seen in the video).

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