2023 Steele Rudd Memorial Prize Winner talks academia and ambition

29 March 2023

For English Literature student Brianna Merriman, the dream has always been books and academia. As she completes a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English Literature with a minor in Media and Digital Cultures, Brianna is no stranger to research, readings, and essays.

However, one particular essay caught her Professor's eye, which awarded her the Steele Rudd Memorial Prize. This Prize is awarded annually to the student who produces the best essay in the course ENGL3100 Australian Literature. Brianna explains the basis of her award-winning essay, stating that, “The essay explores the depiction of power and discipline in contemporary Australian writing, focusing on how state and cultural institutions discipline bodies and produce particular behaviours.”

Brianna Merriman at Shakespeares Globe in London
Brianna Merriman at Shakespeare's Globe in London

In addition to this, Brianna also completed a Summer Scholarship between 2021 and 2022 with Professor Anna Johnston collecting research on frontier violence, fiction, and writing.

Anna is a UQ English Literature Professor, and last year was awarded the John Oxley Library Honorary Fellowship with the State Library of Queensland. The joint research completed over the summer scholarship underpins much of her work with SLQ.

Professor Anna Johnston, photo by Joe Ruckli
Professor Anna Johnston, photo by Joe Ruckli

Brianna describes her experience working with Professor Johnston as collaborative and insightful, saying, "it really allowed me to dive into some history that I didn't really know about and unearth some texts that were completely new to me.”

Professor Johnston also expressed her gratitude and positive experience working with Brianna over the summer stating that, “Brianna is such an engaging thinker and writer that it’s a delight to have her in class. It was wonderful to work with her on the History and Fiction: Mapping Frontier Violence in Colonial Queensland Writing project: Brianna’s meticulous research identified over 100 stories, poems and travel books that gave me a head start in my SLQ Fellowship.”

Within her personal experience, Brianna explained that she loved English in high school but originally went into Law because others told her that in Humanities, you would have to be competitive to get a job. But, "…after two years of Law, I thought, I just want to explore what I'm passionate about. And that was books and literature.” And it is clear she hasn’t looked back since and is still enthusiastic about her studies.

When asked about her favourite aspect of UQ's Arts Degree, she stated, “it's just the flexibility of being able to explore what you want… there's so much interdisciplinarity between the different subjects, and you can really customise what you want to do.”

Her career goals are to complete honours, a master’s and possibly a PhD with the dream of working in academia. Brianna explains that “it's the dream.”

When asked about her advice to current and future students looking at studying English Literature, her response was, “I would say, one, make sure you get on top of your readings. But also remember, there are so many pathways, and even by just doing the subjects, you can get recognition for an essay you write. There are so many opportunities, so don't be afraid to dive in.”

By Jasmine Deetlefs