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English Alum Wins Fulbright Research Award

Kallie Swyer '17

Fulbright winner Kallie Swyer '17 (photo provided).

Kallie Swyer ’17, from Guilderland, NY, has won a 2022–23 US Student Fulbright Study/Research Award in creative writing for Lithuania with a project titled The Language of Memory: Writing as Resistance and Remembrance (Poetry). Swyer holds a BA in English with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in sociology. She becomes the 43rd Geneseo US Student Fulbright awardee and the first to Lithuania.

Based in Vilnius, Lithuania, Swyer will study the local poetry, diaries, and other primary source writings of Jewish young adults who endured the Holocaust. Her research will be overseen by a professor of history at Vilnius University. 

“My great-grandparents are from Vilnius, so I will be engaging with my personal and cultural Jewish history as I study the Lithuanian language and immerse myself in the culture,” she says. “I will write poetry alongside my research in conversation with these voices from the past and will begin a translation of the poet Matilda Olkinaitė, utilizing my perspective as a descendant of Lithuanian immigrants.”

Swyer will explore how Holocaust-era poetry became a powerful form of resistance to tyranny and a tool of remembrance. “I will present these poems and translations at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in an exhibition that asks viewers to choose what we remember from our history and to grieve as a community as we mimic Jewish mourning practices, speaking to the dangers of radical and hateful political movements,” she says. Since last fall, she has worked with Vilnius University’s Recovering Memory Initiative to honor Jewish students expelled from the university during the Holocaust and with the Vilnius University Museum to edit texts and provide English content.

After her Fulbright year, Swyer plans to earn a graduate degree in creative writing and finish a book of poetry exploring themes of language, memory, and heritage. Her eventual career goals include literature professor, translator, and published poet.

“The value of Kallie’s project cannot be understated: it will continue the work of building bridges between East European Jewish places and diasporic Jewish communities in the US as well as gentile communities,” says Lytton Smith, professor of English and creative writing. “Its urgency, as we see the rise of neo-fascism and anti-Semitism, is also clear: poetry is a tool for empathy, and Swyer has demonstrated success in using it to bring communities together and foster discussion.”

Fulbrights at Geneseo

In four of the past five years, Geneseo has been named a Fulbright Top Producing Institution by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in its annual article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. For the 2017–18 Fulbright cycle, Geneseo was the first dedicated SUNY institution to be named a Top Producer of U.S. Student awards in any category—bachelor’s, master’s, research, or special-focus four-year institutions.

The Fulbright US Student Program provides grants for individually designed graduate study, research programs, or English teaching assistant programs in many foreign countries. Geneseo has nine semifinalists in this year’s competition, with reporting continuing throughout April.

The US Student Fulbright competition is open to students and alumni. It is administered at Geneseo by Director of National Fellowships and Scholarships Michael Mills, who can be reached at millsm@geneseo.edu and 585-245-6002. For more information about the Fulbright and other nationally and internationally competitive scholarship and fellowship programs, visit Fellowships and Scholarships.

—Michael Mills