Indiana University Bloomington
Arts and Sciences News at Indiana University Bloomington

French Student Wins National Essay Contest

Will McHenry Explores Francophone Novel in Essay

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012

Will McHenry

Will McHenry, a senior Hutton Honors College student majoring in French, has won the annual Women in French essay contest for the best undergraduate essay on French literature. His essay, titled "Corps emprisonnés et langage surveillé : Le parodique comme subversif dans Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement d’Assia Djebar," examines how Algerian novelist Djebar uses parody as subversion in her book Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (published in 2002). McHenry developed the essay as part of an individual readings course with Professor Oana Panaïté of the Department of French and Italian in Fall 2011.

French literature written outside of France, particularly in the area of North Africa known as the Maghreb, captured McHenry's interest a few years ago. When he signed up for the individual reading class with Prof. Panaïté, he originally planned to focus on literary translation, but after reading Djebar's novel for the second time (in preparation for translation), he was struck by the literary themes and became more interested in literary criticism and analysis of the work. He read several theoretical works by modern and contemporary experts in the field of literary criticsm and began to explore the representations of the body and sexuality, uses of speech and language with a text, specifically within Women of Algiers. The work has so many layers, says McHenry, "I had to stop rereading and finding new aspects to discuss so that I could actually sit down and write the essay."

Professor Panaïté was so impressed with the final essay that she recommended Will submit it to the Women in French contest. "Will's approach to French literature stems from his passion for culture and from his desire to understand the world in all its diversity and complexity," says Panaïté. "His current success is a beautiful example of how talent and intelligence combined with dedication and hard work allow students to flourish and achieve their potential in a nurturing academic environment."

Women in French is an affiliation of scholars who wish to promote research on women writing in French, on women in literature and culture of French expression, and other domains of feminist literary criticism. The group is affiliated with the Modern Language Association, the foremost professional organization for academics studying foreign languages, cultures, and literatures. Professor Panaïté is a member of the organization and was pleased to recommend her student's essay for the contest.

When asked whether the award came with any prize money or scholarship funds, McHenry laughed. "No, but winning is an award in itself for me. Academic writing can be so full of anxiety, it just feels wonderful to be validated as a writer and a thinker." This validation also brings pride to IU and to the Department of French and Italian. McHenry's writing in French will undoubtedly become even better this year, as he is studying in Aix-en-Provence as part of IU's study abroad program. Additional recognition for his writing no doubt lies in McHenry's future.

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