Thesis, Shmesis: Write a Book Instead

Theses are by definition creative. Every Harvard student who writes a thesis must make an original argument. So what does the term “creative thesis” mean?

This year more than a dozen senior English concentrators are in the process of writing theses that differ significantly in form and function from those of their peers. These are the authors of creative theses—novels, poems, short stories and plays—that aspire to do what all good theses do, present original ideas in a compelling manner.

Over the next two weeks Crimson Arts will feature interviews with four seniors who are working on creative theses in different genres. The distinctions among these writers’ experiences and those of “non-creative” thesis writers are illuminating; both make arguments but they do so in strikingly different ways. We can ask any writer where ideas come from and how they are put together and revised. The answers, however, can be more fascinating and difficult when the writer is telling truths through art.

Emily N. Odgen ‘02 is writing a short book of poetry for her thesis.

The Harvard Crimson: When did you start writing poetry?

Emily Ogden: I started writing poetry seriously the summer after freshman year. I had just taken Helen Vendler’s “Poems, Poets, Poetry.” I loved reading the poems and for me, reading something gives rise to wanting to try to make it.

THC: What is your thesis about?

EO: My thesis will be a short book of poetry. I’m not writing the thesis with an overarching theme in mind, but I think that certain themes are emerging. I often write about the act of trespassing, of walking down a path beyond where it is socially acceptable to go. And I write about rural areas. I’m particularly interested in spaces that are culturally ill-defined or insignificant; a particular dead end, or a particular exit from the interstate. I hope for poems to arise from careful attention to what seems at first unimportant.

THC: Are you from a rural area?

EO: No, I’m from a small city of about 100,000 but I think a lot about rural areas. My father is from a very small town and my mother grew up on a farm. Plenty of what I write is about the city, I just think that rural areas and attention to nature affected the way that I look at things.