Undergrad Student Spotlight: Lillian Brownlee

Lillian Brownlee (BA ’20)

“Remembering is not a passionate or dispassionate retelling of a reality that is no more, but a new birth of the past, when time goes in reverse. Above all it is creativity.” ~ Svetlana Alexievich, The Unwomanly Face of War (xvii)

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and paused at a National Geographic photo of a young woman sitting on the edge of a hospital bed, her parents embracing her. Her name was Katie, and she was going to be the youngest person to receive a full face transplant. The article link told of her unimaginable journey, from her attempted suicide to the science that was trying to give her her life back.

As double major in anthropology and English with an emphasis in creative nonfiction, I wanted to know more about the importance humans place on the facial aspect of one’s identity, as well as the history of facial reconstruction and plastic surgery. A research essay assignment for Professor Elizabeth Dodd’s ENGL 665 “Creative Nonfiction” writing class in Fall 2018 allowed me to begin exploring this topic.

A simple Google search brought me to Dr. Harold Gillies, the man credited with inventing plastic surgery during WWI. I was astounded to read of skin grafts being performed before the discovery of penicillin. As I continued to read and research, I became more aware that most of the facial reconstructions being performed weren’t only for the person’s mechanical capabilities, but rather for the preservation of their physical appearance. Article after article described the techniques and reasons for the need for facial reconstruction but none of them told the experiences of the wounded men themselves.

I saw in this gap between recorded science and lost experience a place for poetry.

My project “What’s In a Face?” combines a poetic fictionalization of a soldier’s experience from injury to post-war life with traditional research. It is my hope that by mixing these storytelling mediums, I can offer a glimpse into the untold stories of these men.

— Lillian Brownlee (BA ’20)



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