Alice Spencer

English student wins prestigious American Ambassador's Award

A national competition for the best undergraduate essay on any aspect of the American experience has been won by a University of Exeter, Humanities student.

Third-year English Undergraduate, Alice Spencer, succeeded in winning the prestigious British Association for American Studies (BAAS) / United States Embassy "Ambassador's Award".

Spencer’s winning essay was a coursework submission from her third year option, The American Novel Since 2000. The essay was entitled: “Anyway, I asked, what was wrong with sympathy? ”Joyce Carol Oates's Black Girl/White Girl as a Postsentimental Novel; and was submitted to the BAAS by Spencer’s tutor Dr Sinéad Moynihan.

The essay was inspired by an impression that there is often a slippage between affect and political action. Spencer explained: “I feel strongly about social inequality, and through my work intended to highlight the importance of acknowledging one's own privileges and ensuring that emotions such as sympathy and compassion are translated effectively into concrete political action.”

According to Dr Moynihan the essay is a superb example of undergraduate work at its best. She said: “The essay read this very contemporary text (2006) as a novel that interrogates the relationship between affect, sentiment, politics and identification prevalent in 19th century American sentimental fiction, of which the ur-text - according to Alice herself - is Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).

“I was highly impressed with the way Alice historicised the novel and how she contextualised and critiqued it with great flair, sophistication and independence. I was very pleased to enter it for the BAAS Ambassador's Undergraduate Essay Prize, and even more delighted when it won.”

The Ambassador’s Awards were presented by Sue Wedlake from the U.S. Embassy during the 60th annual conference of the British Association for American Studies at Northumbria University.

Spencer said of the experience: “It was a real honour to win such an esteemed award and to have it presented by a member of the U.S. embassy at the BAAS gala dinner. Winning a national competition has really increased my confidence in my academic work and my potential as a writer, and will also hopefully be beneficial for my future career prospects.”

Date: 19 May 2015

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