Poet Leah Mell '19 has been awarded the prestigious Beinecke Scholarship in support of the arts, humanities and social sciences. Hers is one of only 18 in the nation and one of only six Beineckes awarded this year at liberal arts colleges. The prestigious Beinecke carries $34,000 to fund recipients' graduate education.
Mell, a double major in English and in Russian Language & Literature, is only the third Beinecke winner in Davidson history, joining Brendan O'Sullivan '91 and John Porter '80.
"Creative writing. This is it. This is the art that matters to me. I love theatre, too, and I still do theatre, but I really love poetry," Mell said. "You just get to stand in awe and ask questions and not be bound. Poetry is like singing but not singing. You get to sing on the page."
There are forty-six miles of nerves in the human body.
I shred a blade of young grass from a crack
in the cement and try to imagine the meat of me
turned momentarily, all those nerves
branching along city streets in the April sun.
Reaching for something treacherous and bright.
-from "On Grace" by Leah Mell
Mell also has received an Abernethy Grant for summer travel, and plans to stoke her fascination with science-based poetry at the Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. "How do bodies become disembodied?," she wants to know. She'll supplement with side trips to old graveyards, looking for ghosts and poetic inspiration.
"Leah is one of those strange artists (and I do identify) who makes knowledge out of words, then questions it, then uses her findings as a mirror held up to the world," said fellow poet and novelist Alan Michael Parker, the Douglas Houchens Professor of English. "She's clearly already a poet who needs only the time and opportunity to pursue her studies, which this fabulous honor will facilitate."
At Davidson, Mell's untethered imagination has led her to study abroad for a semester in St. Petersburg and to work closely with faculty on original research.
This summer, she will travel to Canada with Professor of English Suzanne Churchill for a course on "Feminist Digital Humanities" and work with Churchill on the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded digital humanities project "Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde." Mell's contribution to the project will include original work of digital scholarship–she plans to animate two of Loy's short Futurist plays, which were published in 1915 but have never been staged.
It's a thrill when schools that have not recently won a Beinecke produce another winner, said Diane Flynn, director of the Beinecke Scholarship Program in New York City.
"Leah was one of the 18 whose application jumped off the page, and her poetry is exquisite," said Flynn. "We hope other students will be inspired by her, and that we'll see repeat winners from Davidson."
The Beinecke Scholarship was established in 1971 by The Sperry and Hutchinson Company. Since 1975 the program has selected more than 628 college juniors as recipients of funding to attend more than 100 top graduate programs in the United States and the United Kingdom.
"Leah will have us pulling for her and she will be recognized as a Beinecke Scholar at the graduate schools she applies to," Flynn said. "We can't wait to see what she does next."
Davidson's Fellowships & Scholarships Program reflects the college's extraordinary commitment to supporting students' dreams–and plans–for lives of disproportionate impact beyond Davidson, said Jeanne-Marie Ryan, executive director of the Center for Career Development, which administers the program in collaboration with the faculty-led Fellowships and Scholarships Committee.
For Mell, the Beinecke Scholarship will more closely align her artistic passions with career opportunities.
"I'd love to end up in academia," she said. "I will be a poet no matter what I do for a living. I know poetry really has mattered to me in my life, and I know there are other people like me."