Alumni profile: Brianne Christensen

Brianne Christensen

Brianne Christensen at UBC Okanagan after he thesis defiance, November 2023

Brianne Christensen completed her BA in English (Hons) at UBCO before joining the MA in English graduate program in 2021. She defended her thesis in November 2023, “Hospitality in Crisis: New Sincerity and Receiving the Stranger in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet.” She was supervised by Dr. Jennifer Gustar, with committee members, Dr. George Grinnell and Dr. Margaret Reeves.

We asked Brianne to discuss her experience at UBCO as a master’s student.

Why did you choose to apply to the MA in English program here at UBCO?

When I applied to the MA in English program, I was in the final stages of writing my Honour’s thesis, which explored Ali Smith’s disruptive narrative style in Spring (2019) and There but for the (2011). At the time, I was thinking about the ways in which Smith’s modes of writing engage with experiences of hospitality, especially in the context of unexpected arrivals, and I was beginning to develop an understanding of the intersections in her work between socio-political and literary concerns. Yet I felt that I wasn’t quite finished with Smith––more accurately, she wasn’t finished with me!

As I became increasingly invested in the discourses surrounding Brexit and immigration in the UK­––issues central to Smith’s thinking on hospitality in the Seasonal Quartet––it felt urgent that I pursue further research on what her novels, modes of writing, and particular ethics as an author might offer for thinking about the social role and responsibility of the novel form in times of multiple crises related to hospitality and its refusal.

I decided to undertake this research at UBCO because I learned so much from working with Dr. Jennifer Gustar––my Honour’s thesis supervisor––and I knew that I wanted to keep thinking with her while writing my Master’s thesis. I had the excellent luck to meet Dr. Gustar as a second-year undergraduate student and, from then on, I took every one of her courses that I could. In fact, it was in one of these courses that I first encountered Ali Smith’s fiction. Over the years, working with Dr. Gustar has itself been a study in hospitality; her constant encouragement, generosity, and sheer brilliance will continue to inspire me both in life and in my future academic endeavours.

Tell us about the road to earning your UBC degree.

The road to earning my Master’s degree was full of unexpected opportunities that enabled me to grow as a student, researcher, and thinker. I’m incredibly thankful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their generosity in the form of a CGS-M award as well as the Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement, which allowed me to undertake site research abroad in the UK hosted by the University of Exeter. While in England, I studied post-Brexit UK migration narratives in multiple forms, including museum exhibitions, art installations, and hybrid literary genres combining prose, poetry, and creative non-fiction. This interdisciplinary research enriched my work immensely and provided me with valuable context with which to theorize Smith’s rhetoric of hospitality.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of the supportive and motivating community that is the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at UBCO. I particularly enjoyed participating in the FCCS Research Series, both as a presenter and a listener. My own presentations in 2022 and 2023 helped me to clarify my thinking and facilitated connections with peers and professors whose scholarly interests productively overlap with my own. As a result of my first Research Series presentation, I was invited to contribute to the inaugural issue of RESPECT: UBC’s Equity Magazine––an opportunity I’m especially grateful for! I also presented a work-in-progress paper alongside other graduate students at the Critical Relations Symposium in April 2023, a truly special event organized by members of my fantastic cohort.

Tell us about your thesis.

My thesis is an effort to theorize Ali Smith’s particular rhetoric of hospitality––as she expresses it in the four novels of the Seasonal Quartet and in public paratexts––as well as to explore the potential of her modes of writing for thinking about hospitality and sincere welcome, two urgent geopolitical concerns that we must understand better as we move forward. I argue that, while Smith’s Quartet draws always on the context of immigration and post-Brexit Britain to address the pressing need of hospitality in social life as well as in art and literature, she is also developing sincere modes of writing that are themselves attuned to hospitality.

How did your professors support you throughout your degree?

My professors supported me with dedication and enthusiasm that exceeded all possible expectations. Working and thinking with my supervisor Dr. Jennifer Gustar was a major highlight of my experience at UBCO. Dr. Gustar went above and beyond to support me; she flew across the country to watch me present at my first conference in Montreal, spent hours reading my work, and always knew exactly what to say when I hit a wall in my thinking. Put simply, Dr. Gustar was the best supervisor any student could hope to work with.

I cannot put into words how thankful I am for the support of my committee members, the “dream team”: Dr. George Grinnell and Dr. Margaret Reeves. Their careful and attentive close reading, intellectual rigour, and generous feedback helped shape my thesis project into all that I hoped it might become. Dr. Grinnell and Dr. Reeves each challenged me to think deeply and to strive for excellence, while always encouraging me to pursue my passions, interests, and instincts.

Dr. Emily Murphy was also a wonderful and supportive professor whom I was lucky to meet. Her encouragement, keen editorial eye, and invaluable suggestions significantly contributed to my successful SSHRC application and helped frame my thinking for the project.

Throughout my years as both an undergraduate and graduate student at UBCO, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of also encountering Dr. Gustar, Dr. Grinnell, Dr. Reeves, and Dr. Murphy as a student in their courses. Their dedication to their students, passion for the material, and thoughtfulness are qualities I will aspire to in my own teaching in the future.

What are your plans now that you have completed your master’s degree?

My plan for the immediate future is to work, read widely, and prepare applications for PhD programs. I also have a substantial archive of research that didn’t quite make it into my thesis; I plan to produce at least one scholarly article with this material. In the long term, I aspire to teach at the university level, and I’m passionate about continuing to pursue my research interests, which are increasingly concerned with the relationships between politics and aesthetics, law and literature, and hospitality and authorship.