Two Department of English students were selected to receive the department’s 2023 Outstanding Senior Awards. Sponsored by the Dianna S. Cavett Endowment for English Literature, this faculty-nominated award recognizes senior English and Film Studies majors who have demonstrated excellence in academics and co-curricular activities and who have made significant contributions to the department community beyond the classroom.
The selection committee then chose the following two students to receive this honor:
- Nithya Balakrishnan, Film Studies senior
- SaMya Overall, English senior
As the 2023 recipients, Balakrishnan and Overall both received $1,500.
A Film Studies major, Balakrishnan has impressed faculty and peers with her talents as a screenwriter, as well as her extraordinary insights in her film theory and film history classes.
“My time here as a Film Studies major has been some of the happiest, most stimulating, and challenging years of my life,” Balakrishnan said. “I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take a multitude of film classes that have introduced me to new concepts, films, and theories that have inspired my academic and creative work. I’m very proud of the work I have produced in my classes, from completing a pilot script and feature-length film to writing critical analyses and research papers on texts and films I love. The Film Studies Program has been incredibly supportive, and my relationships with my peers and professors are invaluable to me.”
Outside of the classroom, Balakrishnan assisted with the Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities (IAH) Program’s research on implementing DEI values in IAH courses. She also served as an assistant in the Film Production Lab. This spring, she was awarded the Lawrence Allen Tate Film Writing Award for her critical writing in queer theory.
“My experience in Film Studies exponentially improved once I realized, early on in my freshman year, that my opinions do matter, that my views and takes hold as much weight as anybody else’s. Only through participating in discussion and lectures, not being afraid to ask questions, and not being afraid of being completely wrong was I able to foster genuine intellectual curiosity and scholarship,” Balakrishnan said, offering advice to future English and Film Studies students. “Show your work in class, accept constructive criticism, and offer to provide the same for your classmates. Don’t be held back by what you think you should do, and don’t be afraid to experiment academically and creatively.”
“My time here as a Film Studies major has been some of the happiest, most stimulating, and challenging years of my life…The Film Studies Program has been incredibly supportive, and my relationships with my peers and professors are invaluable to me.”Nithya Balakrishnan
One of her faculty nominators, Ellen McCallum, Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies Program, wrote: “Rarely, in over 20 years of teaching here, have I had a student as engaged in the classroom experience as Nithya. She avidly participates in every discussion, from FLM200’s open and roving deliberations about a just-screened film to the more intimidating discussions of FLM381’s assigned reading to jumping into ENG802’s graduate-level dialogue as a peer of our outstanding graduate students.”
Balakrishnan’s other nominator, Kaveh Askari, Associate Professor in the Department of English and Director of the Film Studies Program, wrote that “the precision of Nithya’s thinking and her strong ethical and political commitments position her to make a measurable contribution to the discipline.”
Balakrishnan has received a prestigious fellowship from New York University and will begin an M.A. program in Film Studies in Fall 2023.
“NYU’s program will allow me to further both my academic and creative film pursuits,” she said. “I aspire to be a screenwriter and director, as well as explore academia and film criticism, and pursue an MFA and/or Ph.D. in the future. Working in Hollywood and writing and directing my own projects would be my ultimate dream. My more immediate goals are to excel in this master’s program, enjoy my time in New York, create the projects and scripts I’m passionate about, meet other creative people, and not restrict myself to one area of filmmaking and film studies.”
A member of the Honors College, SaMya Overall is graduating in Spring 2023 with a B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and minors in French and Women and Gender Studies. During her time at MSU, she has demonstrated extraordinary skill and imagination as a fiction writer and poet, exploring work that centers Black female characters.
“I found my home in the English Department, specifically the Creative Writing Program,” Overall said. “I started as a Journalism major at MSU and knew I didn’t love it. I loved writing, specifically fiction, so I met with the English advisor at the time, Andrew Murray, and realized the English Department was for me. Since then, I’ve blossomed as a writer, and I have a clear life goal of empowering Black and Brown voices in my writing and the book publishing industry as a whole.”
For her final project for an advanced poetry seminar, Overall wrote a chapbook titled “Black Compliance” that explores Black womanhood through hair care and style. This past year, she also worked on a young adult dystopian novel as part of her senior capstone project.
As her faculty nominator, Robin Silbergleid, Professor in the Department of English, explains, her novel “moves outward from personal experience and family relationships to meditate on systemic racism and violence perpetrated against Black people, as well as the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, through a fictionalized ‘contagion’ used as population control.”
“I found my home in the English Department, specifically the Creative Writing Program…Since then, I’ve blossomed as a writer, and I have a clear life goal of empowering Black and Brown voices in my writing and the book publishing industry as a whole.”SaMya Overall
“I found much of my success when I let go of the fear of failing in writing and tried new things,” Overall said. “I completely forgot how much I loved dystopian young adult fiction as a child and thought I could never write a novel similar to these works, especially not with the nuances of Black culture I wanted to have. But I tried it. And I’m doing it. So, I would tell future English and Film Studies majors to try things creatively. There’s literally no risk, and so much reward.”
Overall’s writing received the Arthur Athanason scholarship for excellence in creative writing in 2020 and 2022. This year, she received the College of Arts & Letters Louis B. Sudler Award. She also serves as Editor-in-Chief of The State News and completed competitive internships at Simon and Shuster and the Feminist Press. As Silbergleid observes, Overall “has displayed exceptional artistic ability, intellectual curiosity, dedication to her area(s) of study, and professionalism during her time at MSU.”
A first-generation college graduate, Overall plans to take at least a month off after graduation and then would like to get a job in communications near Detroit and dedicate time to working on her novel. She hopes to have a rough draft by the end of September. Eventually, after saving some money, she would like to move to New York to pursue a career in book publishing.
“I do want to publish my own novel someday because writing is a big passion of mine, but I want to have some stability first, post-grad,” Overall said. “However, I am working on this young adult book that I’m very excited about. It was part of my project for my capstone class this semester. So, I do plan to publish something eventually. I just don’t know when.”