Global Undergraduate Awards 2021 Winner Profile

Akshi Chadha, BA’21
Regional Winner, Literature

Akshi ChadhaWhen Akshi Chadha, BA’21, turned in her final paper for an English course that explored 18th Century Black literature, it wasn’t meant to be a research paper at all.

A few months later, thanks to the encouragement of her professor and some additional hours of work, Chadha’s revised paper, Resisting Social Death: Collective Agency of the Enslaved in The History of Mary Prince was selected as a Regional Winner – the best paper in the United States and Canada – in the literature category for The Undergraduate Awards

Chadha, who graduated in June with a Bachelor of Arts and Honours Specialization in English and Creative Writing, said the original paper was a close textual analysis of Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, the first memoir to be published by an enslaved Black woman in England.

“My professor, Mary Helen McMurran, said it was a good paper and suggested that I could submit it to the Undergraduate Awards if I worked a bit more on the research aspect. She’s amazing and I thought, ‘Even if I don’t win, I’m happy to have the opportunity to put more research into this paper and get her feedback on it.’”

In her paper, Chadha focuses on the idea of social death – a term coined by Black sociologist, Orlando Patterson,  to describe the exclusionary and alienating effects of slavery. She argues that while a useful term in understanding slavery, too much emphasis on social death can potentially undermine the inherent agency of the enslaved, so the focus should instead be on how the enslaved people in the memoir were working to resist social death.

“By voicing her and other enslaved people’s experience of enslavement, Mary Prince is able to resist the forces of social death. The text itself is able to transcend the enslavers’ society to create an empowering socio-political space that was being denied to the enslaved,” said Chadha.

Now pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Toronto where she is focused on poetry about decolonization, Chadha said she has also long been interested in global literatures and post-colonial literature and theory.

“I felt really fulfilled when I finished this paper. It was the best paper I’d ever written and then I was able to expand it. I was happy to put in the extra effort because the paper’s topic is very important to me. I am grateful I was able to take that particular course and learn about such important narratives from Black writers in the 18th and 19th centuries”

Completing the research aspect of the paper gave her new insights into the text and was an opportunity to grow as a writer, according to Chadha.

 “It’s really motivating to be acknowledged by an international panel who saw something worthy in my paper. I’m excited that I’ll be joining the other winners whose papers have been published and listed in the Undergraduate Library.”