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Collins ’21 Examines Evolution of Literature's Female Protagonist


Kelly Collins '21
Kelly Collins '21

While many students have a summer reading list, few probably have as hefty of a list as Kelly Collins ’21, who spends most of each day reading and analyzing fiction.

From Tess of the d’Urbervilles to Twilight, Collins is pursing an Emerson research project in which she reads through popular children’s, young adult, and adult literature to track the evolution of the young adult genre. More specifically, she hopes to chart the rise of the modern young adult heroine, who she describes as the “female character that everyone loves.”

For her research, Collins reads novels and criticism, analyzes passages where an author gives a character personality traits or where a character shows personal strength, and interviews authors such as Lois Lowry and Patricia C. Wrede. Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature Suzanne Taylor, Collins’ advisor, has helped Collins develop her reading list and arrange the author interviews. Ultimately, Collins will use her resources to produce a paper that synthesizes her various findings.

About Kelly Collins ’21

Major: Creative Writing
Hometown: Kingston, NH
High School: The Derryfield School

read about other student research projects

A creative writing major, Collins first had the idea for her project while struggling with her own writing. She felt that, in writing female characters, she kept getting stuck in the stereotype of the “sassy, sarcastic, good-at-everything character” that she had grown up reading about. This then led her to question how the female protagonist has changed in literature throughout the past couple centuries, having gone from the simple, “lackluster” character to the “strong,” “intelligent” character prevalent today.

As Collins’ advisor, Taylor emphasized that there is minimal scholarly work on young adult fiction, which makes Collins’ research all the more necessary. She said, “In showing how heroines like Katniss are part of the same literary tradition as characters like Hardy’s Tess, Kelly provides a convincing argument for why scholars need to pay attention to YA fiction. In other words, Kelly's project is making an important contribution to current discussions about how we might expand and diversify the literary canon.”

Collins said that “the main goal of [the project] is to see what goes into making a diverse, interesting female character.” Through her research, she plans to gain a better understanding of how heroines figure into the young adult genre.

Taylor also noted that Collins’ analysis of texts and criticism, combined with the interviews Collins conducts, is a unique mix of literary and sociological work. As such, Collins project helps in “breaking down the barrier between scholar and author.”

Collins aspires to work in publishing and editing, “keeping books alive.” In tune with her Emerson project and creative interests, she said that she would ideally focus on young adult literature.

Overall, Collins expressed that she enjoys her research project and that she sees it bolstering her academic and creative endeavors.

Collins is one of 200 Hamilton students who are conducting summer research or completing an internship supported by the College.

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