Syner’s Essay Wins Second Place at 2024 Southern Literary Festival

Mary Frances Dickie

April 23, 2024

"I appreciate the ways that literary criticism and research can bring an entirely new viewpoint and make me question what the work is truly about."

Patricia Syner, a senior creative writing major at Millsaps, recently earned second place in the 2024 Southern Literary Festival’s Formal Essay category. Her essay, “On a Dark and Stormy Screen: Bringing ‘Frankenstein’ to Life in Black and White Film,” analyzes the implications and effects of adapting the Mary Shelley novel in that medium.

Syner, from Meridian, Miss., wrote her essay for her senior seminar class. English literature and creative writing students must complete a senior seminar course focused on one or more works of literature to graduate.

This year, Dr. Anne MacMaster centered the seminar around “Frankenstein,” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and adaptations of these novels. Syner shares that in her essay, she wanted to give the 1930s “Frankenstein” films their due for using technological limitations – specifically black and white film – to translate the imagery in Shelley’s novel.

“I appreciate the ways that literary criticism and research can bring an entirely new viewpoint and make me question what the work is truly about,” Syner said.

In her essay, Syner argues that capturing the films in black and white allowed the directors to catch the persistent interplay of darkness, light and the elements that haunt Shelley’s novel. Though these films of the 1930s took significant liberties with the source material’s plot points, settings and even character names, she says, “I couldn’t ignore how their aesthetics evoked a true eeriness and complicated sympathy for the creature.”

Patricia delivering her speech.

Syner studied critical analyses of Classical-era film visuals and aesthetics to build her argument. In her research, she says she, “looked specifically for how authors commented on themes of horror and the uncanny using specific film vocabulary like ‘lighting’ and ‘set design.’”

It took some determination to find analyses dedicated specifically to the effects of lighting in black-and-white Classical-Era horror films. For researchers, this can be a blessing and a curse. “’Frankenstein’ films seemed to have fallen into the abyss as far as study on their lighting and other techniques go,” Syner acknowledged. “Though, I was happy my paper wasn’t rehashing a worn-out point.”

She attended the Southern Literary Festival in Oxford, Miss., to present her second-place essay. Her writing placed alongside students from Lipscomb University and the University of North Georgia.

Impressively, the festival fit into Syner’s already busy schedule. In addition to majoring in creative writing, she is minoring in film studies and Spanish. She co-edits the Stylus, Millsaps’ literary magazine, with fellow senior Brittany Wilson, acts with the Millsaps Players, works with Millsaps’ Digital Welty Lab and interns with the University Press of Mississippi.

Syner plans to continue writing after graduating in May. She hopes to pursue a career in publishing with a focus on editing or acquisitions while building her creative writing portfolio for submission to different publications. Her Millsaps education and success as a writer and researcher will be a strong foundation in every path she pursues.