A Voice for Many

Chris Utterback '18 honored by Children's Literature Association for outstanding scholarship.

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English major Chris Utterback is the winner of the 2017 Carol Gay Award for outstanding papers on children’s literature with her essay “The Other Identities: David Levithan’s Queer Representation in Young Adult Literature." The annual award is given by the Children's Literature Association (ChLA). It is the first time a Christopher Newport student has earned first-place honors for the award, and it all began as an unassuming homework assignment.

“The original premise of the assignment was a seven- to 10-page final paper for Dr. Kara Keeling’s Adolescent Literature class,” Utterback says. “Dr. Keeling gave us topics to choose from, but I decided to do my own thing after reading Every Day by David Levithan. “When I found out I won the Carol Gay Award, I was ecstatic. It brings me great pride to know my research on a topic so near and dear to my heart could be worthy of a national award.”

Levithan is known for his novels featuring young LGBTQ+ characters. Upon studying Levithan’s works, Utterback found a worthy topic to expand upon. “I chose to write a paper on Levithan’s representation of queer identities in his young-adult novels, focusing on older and more recent works of queer scholarship,” she says. “I was inspired to write the paper by my own experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community because it’s very hard to find positive representation in literature or media.”

Utterback also presented the paper at Paideia, CNU's annual student research conference. “I hope to raise awareness of the importance of gender and LGBTQ+ studies in young-adult literature, as well as meet professionals with whom I can share ideas about my research,” she says.

Utterback hopes to attend graduate school and plans on earning a degree in literature while specializing in LGBTQ+ studies. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without my professors dedicating their time to give me the individual support I need,” she explains. “I am so thankful I go to a university that maintains small class sizes and allows my professors to spend time fostering my success at a high level. I couldn’t be more grateful to them.”

Despite Utterback’s moments of success, she remains humble and committed to her long-term goals. “It was a truly thrilling moment to win the award, yet humbling because while this contest is a big deal, I have a long way to go if I want to influence any real change.”

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