Healing the narrative

Kerri Linden Slatus

Kerri Linden Slatus, who is earning a doctorate in English literature, looked at how female authors depicted medical treatment of women in the early 20th century. She argues that these writers’ works of fiction expose problematic medical practices that were based on assumptions about gender. Photo courtesy of Kerri Linden Slatus


Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Upon earning her ASU diploma, Kerri Linden Slatus will become a doctor. But not that kind of doctor.

Her graduate work involved reading medical texts, but she won’t be practicing medicine.

Slatus, originally from Trumbull, Connecticut, is earning a doctorate in English literature. Her work is situated at the crossroads of what is termed “medical humanities,” an interdisciplinary research area combining the study of medicine with such disparate fields as the arts, ethics, history, geography and culture.

Slatus received English’s Katharine C. Turner Dissertation Fellowship to complete her research this past year. On April 5, she defended her dissertation, “The Female Patient: American Women Writers Narrating Medicine and Psychology, 1890-1930.”

She looked at how authors such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott), Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein depicted medical treatment of women in the early 20th century.

Slatus argues that these writers’ works of fiction expose problematic medical practices that were based on assumptions about gender. Her work tackles “issues such as categorizing and portrayal of mental illness, control and perception of the patient through treatment, women's alternative medical practices, addiction, and the immigrant and minority patient.”

“The most surprising thing I found in my research,” Slatus said, “was how much gender had to do with treatments and the understanding of medicine during that period, as well as how interrelated the texts were that I studied. I found more and more connections as I completed my dissertation.”

Slatus wants to land a tenure-track position teaching literature. “I hope to contribute further in this area, looking at how literature and the humanities informs medicine, and vice versa.”

Slatus answered a few more questions about her time at ASU and her future plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: My "aha" moment was while I was working in a different field. I was living in New York City and working for a retail real estate magazine. One day I realized I really didn't love what I was doing, and wanted to get out as soon as possible. I decided to go back to school to try out one course in the master's program at the City University of New York's Graduate Center in the evenings after work. I loved that course so much, I decided to pursue a master's degree full time, and then I just kept going. I never thought I would be a teacher, either, and one professor at CUNY gave me a chance to guest lecture. It was trial by fire, but I was hooked. I found out I loved the service mentality of teaching,= and the research aspect of higher education. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: One thing I have been surprised by at ASU is how responsive people are and how much change occurs on campus. For such a large university, things move very quickly. During my time at ASU, our offices were renovated, new faculty members joined the English department, the Starbucks online degree program was implemented, the law school is in the process of moving downtown, and the College Avenue area sprung to life. It's exciting to constantly have development occur and with that, new opportunities for growth.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My husband found an exciting job opportunity in Phoenix, so we moved to Arizona not knowing what my future would be. I immediately found faculty members at ASU carrying out research that aligned well with my own project, and that was important. I also found the community to be supportive, and this played a big role. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would say one important piece of advice is to keep your determination. Much of graduate work, for me, was about not giving up and working toward my goals in spite of frustrations along the way. That being said, it's also important to have work-life balance and take time off. Sometimes academics aren't good at that. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: CupZ was always a good spot, as well as Royal Coffee Bar more recently. The Design Library is a hidden gem for working in a beautiful quiet space!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm hoping to continue doing what I love, and land a tenure-track position teaching literature at a research university. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle early childhood education and expanding funding for underserved communities. I think early education is so important to provide young children with stable relationships, guidance and even help with topics like nutrition to set them on a course to healthy and productive adulthood. 

The Department of English is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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