Graduate Students

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Graduate Students

Amanda Awanjo

Amanda Awanjo comes to Pitt from Rutgers University-Camden, where she received her Masters of Arts in English, and from Wesleyan College, where she studied English and Political Science. Her research looks at the intersections between African American matriarchal genealogy, affect, and the representations of children within Black science fiction and Afrofuturist texts. She also looks at twentieth century representations of African American children as activists and muses within the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement. Her research questions are focused on the ways in which the radical black imaginative is able to articulate subjectivity, futurity, and a radical surviving of oppressive structures through black texts and black poetics. 

Gabby Benavente

In 2015, Gabby Benavente completed her undergraduate and Master's degrees in English at Florida International University. Gabby was born in Callao, Peru, and migrated to Miami, Florida at the age of 9. She holds dearly to her heritage, which informs various aspects of her academic interests. Gabby is interested in speculative fiction's capacity to imagine worlds that challenge oppressive structures. She is specially interested in speculative fictions that look at the intersections of gender, sexuality, and race, and how marginalized groups resist the increasing violence of climate change. In looking at narratives of resistance, Gabby hopes to draw connections between literary texts and their capacity to inspire people towards activism. In an age of increasing white supremacist and environmental violence, Gabby seeks to highlight how contemporary narratives by migrants, people of color, trans, and queer people can both nourish and provide solutions for communities most impacted by oppressive violence.

Ariana Brazier

I received a BA in English from Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. As a Bonner Scholar of Community Service, I dedicated a significant amount of time to volunteer work in Atlanta’s homeless shelters and nonprofit service organizations on campus and in the local community. My senior thesis argued that children’s television promotes an understanding of the homeless as dysfunctional and delinquent, which leads to a denial of their humanity and justifies the social death of the homeless. I hope to further explore issues related to representations of homelessness and impoverished communities in popular culture and media. I am also interested in topics related to intersectionality, womanism, and self-liberation in television and news.

Sreemoyee Dasgupta

I joined the PhD program at Pitt in 2012 after completing BA and MA degrees in English Literature at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. After my Masters, I took a year off, interning in a publishing house and teaching at the Kolkata Muslim Orphanage for Girls on behalf of an Indian NGO called Make A Difference. In spite of dwelling in a perpetual vortex of intellectual confusion, I have discovered that my primary interest lies in children’s literature and childhood studies. I am also interested in women’s and gender studies, postcolonial literature, nineteenth-century British literature, and fantasy literature.  For my dissertation, I would like to explore the intersections of childhood studies and postcolonial studies, looking at indigenous responses to Anglo-American children’s literature. I am interested in literary influence and counter-influences affected by the processes of imperialism as well as imperialism’s effects on the relationships formed by children with adults, their peers, and their socio-historical surrounds, taking into account the material and ideological transformations associated with modernity.

Marlee Fuhrmann

Before beginning the PhD program at Pitt in 2014, I earned my BA in Literary Studies and Creative Writing with a minor in Anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin. I continued my work at Beloit after graduation as an honors fellow, researching and strengthening English-language support services for non-native speakers on campus. My research interests include queer theory, gender studies, ecocriticism, and the nineteenth-century novel. More specifically, I am interested in narrative as a method for managing dissonance between lived realities and cultural norms, particularly with regards to masculinity, heteronormativity, and compulsory sexuality. 

Mary Gryctko

I came to Pitt in 2014 after receiving an MA in English Literature from NYU. In my master’s thesis, I examined the deadly intrusion of the feminine into male homosocial Neverlands in The Turn of the Screw and Peter Pan. At Pitt, I plan to continue my studies of the relationship between childhood sexuality and the death of the child in literature. While my focus is mainly in the 19th century, I am also greatly interested in more modern representations of children and death, particularly the deadly child that is often seen in modern horror.

Treviene Harris

A native Jamaican, I came to Pitt after completing my BA and MA at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. My thesis presented a localized reading of skin bleaching within Jamaican dancehall culture, and situated the practice as a form of embodied resistance which contests marginalizing colorist regimes. I am interested in the ways color, race, class and gender might intersect with and inform the production and circulation of Caribbean popular culture. 

Brittney Knotts

I came to Pitt in 2017 after earning my B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. My research focuses on representations of girlhood in popular culture, including television, music, and social media. I am interested in the intersections of girlhood, sexuality, race, and creative agency. In addition, from a more ethnographic perspective, I like to consider how adolescent girls are making meaning of these popular texts.  

Thomas Lawson

A Saint Paul native, Thomas received his B.A. in English from Hamline University in 2015. He came to Pitt in 2017 to begin his PhD, holding a Provost’s Humanities Fellowship upon entering the program. Thomas's research concerns new media writing in the context of music criticism. Specifically, his work looks at the perceived rise of retro pastiche in popular music and how new media’s affordances for writing about music (e.g. hyperlinks and digital archives) promote a historiographical logic of retrofitting the past to confirm the stylistics of the present. At its heart, however, Thomas's project asserts the primacy of affect in constituting new subcultural publics online, theorizing object-centered approaches to writing criticism through sound art (electroacoustic improvisation or "EAI"). At Pitt, Thomas hopes to extend the interests informing this research into a more sustained study of digital media and writing, technics, narrative theory, the attention economy, and sound studies.

Rachel Maley

I began the PhD program at Pitt after earning a BA in English and a PA English (grades 7-12) teaching certificate at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe in the Spring of 2011. During my year off, I was a substitute teacher and a daycare school-age teacher. In addition to my love for teaching, I am greatly interested in nineteenth century American Literature, specifically women’s sentimental novels and domestic fiction and children’s literature. At Pitt, I hope to further explore and connect womanhood and the girlhood of nineteenth-century America, especially in regards to education, through women’s writing and children’s books for girls.

Nick Marsellas

I started the PhD program at Pitt in 2015 with interests in Caribbean gender and sexuality – these have grown into something of a queer oceanic enthusiasm. Situating myself in Caribbean literature has helped develop an interest in rhetorics of relationality and exchange that have influenced both my pedagogy and scholarship. My current project uses historical and literary representations of pirates to understand queer theory’s relationship to antinormativity and the state.

Krystal Marsh

I came to Pitt after earning my MA in Shakespeare Studies from King’s College London and my BA in English and Writing from Ithaca College. My research is grounded in early modern drama and women’s writing. I am particularly interested in cosmetics, space, and how the body “performs” morality. 

Shawna McDermott

I began the Literature PhD program at Pitt in 2013 after completing my MA at Texas A&M University.  My research focuses broadly on children and childhood in the American nineteenth century.  My current research focuses on visual portrayals of children and race in children's periodicals during and after the Civil War.  I am also interested in child readers, child writers, and the American tomboy tradition.

Kirsten Paine

I came to Pitt in 2011 after earning my BA at Baldwin Wallace University (’08) and my MA at the University of Virginia (’10). 

My dissertation, “’Not According to the Regulation of War’: Intimate Civil War Writing by Female Nurses, Soldiers, and Spies,” examines reconfigurations of intimacy in women’s narratives of the U.S. Civil War that disrupted the national gendered and raced narratives that rested on intimacy’s normative functioning. My dissertation moves through sites of affiliation that open up during the Civil War, namely the military camps, battlefields, prisons, and hospitals in addition to the home.  I consider how forms of intimacy in the writing by female war participants feature gender-unconventional actors, are sometimes one-sided, are often complicated by dramatic performances of race or gender, and frequently realize the deepest and most intense intimacies in spaces where participants face exclusion, expulsion, rejection, and even violence and death.

In 2013, I was a residential fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies and developed an ongoing archival project called “Jefferson and Scottish Folk Music: Transatlantic Highland and Lowland Connections in Eighteenth-Century America.”

Gabrielle Rajerison

Prior to coming to Pitt I attended Knox College, where I earned a BA in English and Gender and Women’s Studies. As an undergraduate, my research centered on literary representations of rape and sexual trauma during antebellum slavery and on the relationships between enslaved black women and their white slave mistresses as sites of violence, failure, pleasure, and grief. My current research is on the construction of sexual trauma and violence across literary, visual, and auditory mediums. I'm particularly interested in sexual violence's relationship to narrative theory, form, and affect; its potential as a read-for aesthetic (of gender, of race, of history, of eroticism, of...); and its capacity to elucidate any given text's ideological and philosophical stance(s) on love. 


Emilee Ruhland

Originally from Snoqualmie, Washington, I received my BA and MA in English Literature from North Dakota State University in Fargo. I study medieval literature and the deployment of "medieval" concepts in contemporary literature and media. I am particularly interested in the political employment of the medieval in popular press, from the early modern pamphlet to contemporary tweets.

Nozomi Saito

Nozomi Saito came to Pitt after earning a Master’s of Arts in English from Boston University and a BA in English from the University of Colorado. Her fields of interest encompass transnational and ethnic literatures, experiences of migration, and the Global South throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. By examining the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, her research seeks out the ways in which literature that re-envisions notions of citizenship, consciousness, and embodiment critique and undercut US neo-imperialism and neoliberalism.

Clare Sigrist

I am currently a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the English Department. I hold a B.A. in English from Penn State University, a M.Ed. in TEFL from Universidad del Turabo, and a M.A. in English from the University of Montana. My dissertation, “Uneasy Fellowships: Novel Reconfigurations of Agency after the Affective Turn,” unfolds a partial history of fellow feeling in the novel, one that emerges after attending to the role of twentieth-century Caribbean and U.S. novels in shaping the figure of the historical witness, both in its disinterested and sentimental forms. Other research interests of mine include the history of the novel, narrative theory, and theories of the affects and emotions. I am particularly devoted to questions concerning the history of literary characterization, especially in its ties to issues of ethics and agency. I’ve taught a range of courses in composition and literature, including Literature of the Americas, Introduction to Critical Reading, Reading Poetry, and Seminar in Composition here at Pitt. My scholarly work has appeared in Philip Roth Studies. 

Tyrica Terry

I began the PhD program at Pitt in 2012, after earning a BA in English at Texas State University. As an undergraduate, I became interested in 20th century literature, ethnic literature, postcolonial studies, and identity politics. My research interests have since expanded to include diaspora and transnational studies. At Pitt, I have developed my investment in exploring the ways in which individuals and communities negotiate race, ethnicity, and nationality in relation to representations of racial and ethnic identities in literature, film, and popular culture. I am currently investigating the recent Brazilian diaspora, Brazilian (trans)national identities, and related identity/cultural politics.

Cate Willits

I began the PhD program at Pitt after earning my BA and my MA in English at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I am interested in medieval and early modern literature with a focus on disability theory and the history of disability. 

Melissa Yang

I study interdisciplinarity to craft chimeric compositions; my research features words (via poetry) and birds (often poultry). Additional investments involve experimental art, materialities, medical humanities, writing centers, &c.

I received my BA in anthropology and English from Mount Holyoke College, where I mentored for the Speaking, Arguing, and Writing (SAW) Program. This, alongside projects on anthropological poetics and literary taxidermy, led me to pursue my PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. I previously worked as an editor and educator in San Francisco.