Lynn Jenner

This hybrid mixed-genre thesis recorded my investigations of loss, searches and re-constructions. The Holocaust was a major focus.

PhD awarded 2013

Lynn writes: 'I began my PhD in 2010, six years after I started writing with a year of fulltime study at Whitireia Polytechnic. In 2008 I completed an MA in Creative Writing at the IIML. My MA thesis, which was the first version of Dear Sweet Harry, won the Adam Foundation Prize for Creative Writing in 2008. Auckland University Press published Dear Sweet Harry in 2010. Dear Sweet Harry won the 2011 New Zealand Society of Authors' Jessie Mackay award for best first book of poetry in the New Zealand Post Book Awards. It was fantastic to think of a jury of strangers reading the book and enjoying it.

'While I was writing the thesis, I wasn't very good at describing it. Now that I have finished it, received feedback from three examiners, defended it and revised it, I have learned more about what it is and what it is about.

'The thesis was a single work which is a hybrid of critical and creative writing. It was also a hybrid in terms of genre, including poems, prose, found text and images. It had a short introductory section telling the story of how the thesis developed its hybrid character, but all its theory was contained in the hybrid text.

'My text explored the human activity of searching for, documenting and re-constructing what is lost. This included people, species, cultural practices and words. Investigating traces of the Holocaust visible in New Zealand was a particular focus. The thesis examined artifacts constructed with the intent of preserving memory (say, a bach on the Kāpiti coast, used by a Holocaust survivor in the fifties and left untouched by her family for many years, or a film about Bruno Schulz, a Jewish writer who died in the Holocaust) and the tools and processes used to construct these artifacts. Often 'examining tools and processes' meant critical writing about books, but sometimes it meant writing about museum exhibits, interviews, poems and art works. My thesis examined memorial at a very large scale and at an intimate scale. It also examined the roles of chance and deliberate re-use and re-cycling in rescuing stories and objects from the process of disintegration or loss. It explored the question of whether the presence of the past is only apparent to those who are already familiar with a certain piece of history.

'Activity Theory, a theory of learning with origins in German philosophy, the writings of Marx and Engels and the Soviet cultural historical psychology of Vygotsky, Leont'ev and Luria, provided a steady drum beat behind the writing in the thesis, drawing attention to questions such as "What makes this system tick?" "What moves it?" "What are its mechanisms? Its interconnections?" "Who does what work?" '"How are they rewarded?" "What tools do they use?"

'The PhD was a fantastic opportunity to read really widely and to write as part of a community of practice which included the PhD group and my two supervisors. In this way it felt a bit like the MA programme. But over three years there was time to learn more about other resources in the University and to develop some other skills which you may not have thought you wanted to learn but are helpful in a writer's life, such as applying for grants and scholarships. The structure of the PhD with its regular supervision and goal setting was extremely helpful to me in keeping the project moving. Having supervisors for three years was another interesting aspect of doing a PhD. It meant that your work was always being read by excellent writers who knew your aspirations for it and were committed to the end result almost as much as you were. Who wouldn't want that? I think it helps you to shape it if you know what you are wanting from the PhD experience. I wanted a situation that supported me to write a piece of work where I could move on from my first book. I wanted to challenge myself as much as I could to develop as a writer. The PhD worked really well for that.'

Lynn's second book, Lost and Gone Away; a hybrid of memoir, essays, prose-poems and poetry, was published by AUP in 2015 and was a finalist in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

In 2017 she completed a substantial research project, which examines the challenges and opportunities of the PhD Creative Writing from multiple viewpoints, with the intention of creating'a feedback loop so students, supervisors and examiners could read a range of perspectives on the IIML PhD in practice.' IIML Director Damien Wilkins says that the project will help the IIML refine its PhD programme but that it is also a valuable contribution to the wider conversation around creative arts in universities. Having presented papers at several conferences, Lynn has made the full research available online. (See below.)

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