Mandy Rowsell is a doctoral candidate in the English department. She grew up in Point Leamington, Newfoundland, and completed her undergraduate degree at Memorial before receiving her Master’s degree at York University in Toronto. Under the supervision of Dr. Fiona Polack in the English department, her doctoral research explores representations of masculinity within contemporary Newfoundland fiction. Mandy works as a per-course instructor in the English department and enjoys reading, trivia, and live music.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?
I grew up in rural Newfoundland and I’ve always known that I wanted to stay here, on the island, for as long as possible. I spent a year in Toronto, where I attended York University, and although I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, it was always my plan to return to Newfoundland for my PhD. And of course, with my interest in Newfoundland fiction, Memorial was the obvious choice. Since returning, I’ve had the opportunity to not only work with some of the leading scholars in Newfoundland and Labrador literature, but, during a course I took with Dr. Larry Mathews in 2014, I was also able to meet a number of prominent NL authors. I could really only have these kind of opportunities here at Memorial, and I’m certainly grateful for them.
What drew you to explore English originally?
I was that kid who was always reading and writing, no matter what else was going on, and my parents were also great book lovers (my dad is a retired English teacher). I can’t recall ever wanting to do anything else—I even remember planning on attending graduate school when I was still in junior high, as I’ve always wanted to learn as much as I can about literature. I think books are endlessly fascinating, and I believe they can teach us a lot about people and life.
Can you tell us a bit about your current research?
Through a survey of contemporary Newfoundland novels, my research closely examines different representations of masculine identity (especially the way that recent social, economic, and political changes in Newfoundland have informed literary constructions of gendered identities within the island’s fiction) in an effort to understand the various ways that strict gender roles can be potentially harmful or limiting. I’m applying various gender theory paradigms to close readings of recent works by Joel Thomas Hynes, Paul Bowdring, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Jessica Grant, Kathleen Winter, Michael Winter, Michael Crummey, and others, in hopes of identifying and contextualizing different modes of masculinity within these texts; primarily, what my research highlights is how advances in industry and technology have disrupted past understandings of manhood in Newfoundland, leading to a contemporary promotion of traditional gender roles, in part through a glorification of Newfoundland's cultural past, especially the outport. I also look at some of these issues in a broader context; for example, I’m currently preparing a paper (for a conference in the Spring) that looks at American author Ben Fountain’s novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and the role that American media played in promoting traditional gender roles following 9/11.
A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor, Fiona Polack, bring to her role as your advisor and mentor?
Fiona is really great. I first met Dr. Polack as an undergraduate student at Memorial, and was thrilled to get to work closely with her when I returned for my PhD. Our conversations about novels often turn into discussions of politics or current events. I think it’s important to be on the same sort of ‘wavelength’ as your supervisor, and Fiona and I have a really good rapport. If I’m ever struggling with anything in my writing or research, she’s always there to help, and that sort of encouragement and mentorship is invaluable.
Have you attended any conferences/delivered any papers this year? Can you give details?
I attended a couple different conferences this year: one was at Congress 2016 in Calgary, as part of ACCUTE (Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English), and the other was a Petrocultures conference in September, which took place here at Memorial, and was actually organized by my supervisor, Dr. Polack, and Dr. Danine Farquharson. For the former, I delivered a paper about Paul Bowdring’s novel, The Strangers’ Gallery, which is, in part, a detailed look at the role that archives (or the past, in general) play in constructing a contemporary Newfoundland identity. Specifically, I looked at how important fathers are in the novel, and how, throughout the text, gender takes on a significant role in developing the cultural identity of the island. For the latter, which was an interdisciplinary conference that welcomed guests from around the world, I presented a paper that explored how oil is potentially changing the way that Newfoundlanders are writing about the island; in particular, I highlighted the ways that some contemporary NL authors employ tones of nostalgia in their recent writings as they lament the cultural influence that neoliberalism and “big oil” has had on our province.
Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?
I’m currently working as project manager for STAGE, an oral archives project which interviews members of Newfoundland’s performing arts community and preserves their stories in the QEII (and on our YouTube page). I’ve worked with STAGE for almost three years, and I feel like it’s such an important project. We’ve interviewed over 350 individuals (including everyone from playwright Robert Chafe to musician Sandy Morris and costume designer Marie Sharpe), and every person interviewed has something interesting to tell us, whether it be about Newfoundland’s past in general (a story which might otherwise never be told) or about the realities of the difficulties involved with working in the theatre (including advice for those just getting started). Just recently, I interviewed Peter Soucy (perhaps better known as Snook) and it was a really great experience—he talked at length about the changing culture of NL’s artistic scene, and shared anecdotes of the “cultural revival” of the 70s, something that informs my own research.
What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?
Memorial feels like home to me (perhaps because I’ve been here, on and off, for almost a decade!). I have good relationships with my professors and I feel like there are a lot of opportunities for learning and growth—I’m able to teach in my department, help out with various research projects, and there’s always help provided to get me to conferences outside the province. I’ve made some good friends while at MUN, within and outside of my own department; I recently met graduate students in both folklore and history who are also studying Newfoundland, and it’s great to see how different perspectives, across disciplines, can help each other.
What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?
I hope to find some kind of work related to the study and teaching I’ve been doing in recent years—whether that be as a post-doctoral fellow, continuing my research of gender theory and NL fiction, with the hope of one day achieving a position teaching at a university, or something in the publishing and editing world, or perhaps something more broadly concerned with education—I’ve been teaching at Memorial for the past few years, and I’ve become really interested in how students are being taught English at both a secondary and post-secondary level.