Skip to main content

WCU Stories

Graduate student explores dystopia, literature, and racial bias in journalism

Crystal Ellwood constantly toed the line between literature and art up until the moment she decided to pursue her graduate degree in English at Western Carolina University. Her passion for literature and creative arts not only inspired her to take a more creative approach to her literature masters, but it paved the way for her first novel.

Crystal Ellwood


Crystal graduated in May of 2019 with a master’s degree in English and a concentration in literature. Initially, Crystal was interested in majoring in something in the arts. She said that she “fell in love” with the art faculty and the art building when she toured campus prior to attending WCU for her undergraduate degree. It wasn’t until much later that she decided to double major in art and English literature, which was only the beginning of her dual relationship with literature and creativity.

The English department at WCU offered Crystal a unique opportunity to dive into a different angle for her master’s in english. She is the first student to approach the literature concentration from a creative angle, writing a creative thesis that was essentially the first three chapters of her first novel, rather than a research-based thesis. This novel is the focus of Crystal’s time at WCU. She explained that the dystopian tale takes place in a universe where the government is poisoning people’s food to control the population. It is a constant risk for the main family when they go to the grocery store. When tragedy strikes the family, they decide to take matters into their own hands to put a stop to poisoning once and for all. Crystal hopes to continue her novel as she applies for MFA programs to attend after she graduates from WCU, getting it to publishing standards.

Crystal said that the reaction to her research on dystopia and literature has been positive thus far. She recently presented a paper at Clemson University that detailed how dystopian literature is “based in economics and the science of reality,” and she ultimately is interested in the concept of dystopian literature as a genre fiction and merging it with literature. “It’s not that we’re not receptive to this thing…being in academia,” she said, recalling the questions that people had during her presentation “It’s that no one is brave enough to take it there yet.”

For Crystal, literature is just the starting point for her research. Before dystopian literature, she said, she studied African literature, and has always been interested in race and writing and the correlation between those two. Her research focuses on just that. She said that she wanted to bring attention to racism in journalism, headlines geared toward those who commit crimes. When it’s someone white, she said, the headline is more sympathetic than for someone who is of color. It’s more rhetorically focused, she said, but she wanted to prove that it existed to help both journalists and activists.

When all is said and done, Crystal said that she wants to be a full-time writer, or at least an English teacher at the collegiate level. Her current assistantship allows her to teach English 101 and 202 composition classes, and she hopes to continue that while working on her debut novel.

Master of Arts in English

Program Overview

Location: Cullowhee, Biltmore Park

App Deadline: Jan. 1, May 1, Aug. 1

Prerequisites: None

Graduate Assistantships Available

Graduate Tuition Scholarships Available

Discover More About the Program

Office of Web Services