Alexa Frank, who will receive an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa this May, is the winner of a Fulbright Research Award to Japan for 2019-20
Hometown: Irvington, New York
Type of Fulbright award: 2019-20 Fulbright Research Award to Japan
Degree and field of study: MFA creative writing
What drew you to this field of study?
I’m part of the generation that grew up during the Japanese pop culture boom of the early 00s — now that those consumers are creating amazing creative work of their own, be it fiction, film, or visual art, you can really see how that boom is informing our current American mediascape. It definitely has informed my own work. I think my love of fiction and drawing naturally kind of dovetailed into an interest in Japanese manga, which dovetailed into an interest in Japanese literature, which ultimately bloomed into a desire to learn Japanese. I started studying the language seriously when I was around 14. It’s a hard language to “master,” but I’m happy to think of myself as an eternal student. Studying Japanese is so rewarding!
As for my Fulbright research, I have long been interested in how writers explore and mediate mental illness through fiction, especially marginalized voices. Japanese literature has long provided a space for authors to do just that, despite the societal stigma. I am hoping to research how mental illness narratives in literature have evolved over time and intersected with mass literary culture, particularly during the postwar period.
How do you envision this will influence your life/future career?
The Fulbright will support and stimulate my efforts to complete a novel that deals with, among other things, mental illness and “children of the boom.” It will also allow me the chance to meaningfully engage with Japanese culture through writing, translating, and exchanging ideas with students, professors, and other writers at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.
What advice do you have for future students interested in applying for a Fulbright?
Start early! Beginning the application process during the summer will give you ample time to write (and rewrite) essay drafts, conduct research about your topic and host country, and consult the UI Fulbright community for feedback. Take advantage of the resources the University of Iowa provides Fulbright applicants. The information sessions and statement workshops I attended were invaluable and clarifying.
Are there individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process?
I had tremendous support from UI and elsewhere during this application cycle. Special thanks to Samantha Chang, Mika Endo, Kendall Heitzman, and Karen Wachsmuth for writing recommendations, sharing insight, and providing my project with such generous consideration. I’d also like to thank the Center of Asian and Pacific Studies and the Japan Foundation for allowing me the chance to visit Tokyo last summer and make wonderful connections. To my family and friends, UI and Bard professors, Japanese teachers — thank you, thank you, and thank you again!
Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance. Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).