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The Creationists

Theses run the gamut from poetry collections to original dance performances

For some students who write creative theses, the journey does not end with the project’s official completion senior year. Former Fifteen Minutes writer Mark J. Chiusano ’12 wrote a collection of short stories entitled “Marine Park” for his creative thesis. This year, the collection was published by Penguin Books.

Chiusano, who applied to creative writing classes twice his freshman year without success, took fiction writing classes with English Department lecturers Bret A. Johnston and Amy Hempel during his sophomore year before applying to write a creative thesis. Chiusano wrote a couple of stories in theses workshops about elderly people in a park near his house—Marine Park. He applied for a creative thesis with this in mind and spent the next year crafting the stories (with help from manuscripts and maps found in Harvard Library) that dealt with the creation of the park.

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"After I graduate, I'm going to go to New York City to be a music director, and this thesis was really pivotal in me figuring that out because it affirmed how much I love the creative process and how much theater can do," Madeline A. Smith '14 says.

Chiusano feels fortunate that he was able to publish the book and continue to write. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation—I wanted to keep writing and keep working on the collection, but I didn’t know in what form,” he says. “I was lucky in that a friend of mine helped me find an agent, and I worked on the collection for another six or so months, and then my agent sent out the manuscript to a bunch of publishing companies.”

Musician and poet Matthew A. Aucoin ’12 has experienced similar success. Aucoin, who writes both poetry and music, wrote a collection of poems for his senior thesis in English while simultaneously composing an opera. Recently, Aucoin had an opera commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

As both a musician and a poet, Aucoin feels the two disciplines really interact. “For me, it’s all really part of one process. I think of words as little pieces of music because if you kind of think about it in a more sensory way, they are shaped sounds such as you could make with an instrument,” Aucoin says. “To write poetry is to re-immerse words in what we hope to be their original music, to figure out some of the underlying significations to find the ones that might not be the most comfortable for us. So I think the more musically aware we are, the more accurately we can create language. And that formula works both ways.”

THERE FOR THE TAKEOFF

The English Department does not have a monopoly on creative theses. Madeline A. Smith ’14, a joint concentrator in classics and music, recently completed her creative thesis—a musical based on Euripides’s play “Alcestis.” Smith, an active member of Harvard’s theater community, donned various hats in creating this musical—choosing and translating the text, composing all of the music, choosing instrumentation, and setting the words to music. “The aspect of classics that I love is their art—their poetry, their theater—and as an aspiring artist that’s why I’ve always loved it. So the first thing I knew was that if there was any way I could push my thesis in an artistic direction, that’s what I wanted to do.”

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