The Rigors of Writing
When Washington, DC native Carolyn Colton 14 FAV came to RISD as a freshman, she was already hooked on politics and decided straightaway to do a concentration in History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences (HPSS). “Once I took Tom Roberts’ Combat and Culture class sophomore year, he became an incredible mentor for me,” the recent graduate recalls. “After taking his propaganda class and a course at Brown on the Weimar Republic in Germany, I decided to focus on comparative politics.”
As an aspiring screenwriter and director, Colton knows how important it is to construct a strong narrative, so she also took writing classes as part of her Film/Animation/Video major, including Andrew Freiband’s screenwriting class. “That was one of the best classes I took in my major,” she says. “Being a good writer is so important not only with regard to film but in terms of expressing yourself in any situation. Every single word and sentence should speak to the bigger idea you’re trying to communicate.”
Recognizing Colton’s talent as a writer, Roberts nominated her for the David A. Warner Prize for Excellence in Writing, a recently established award in honor of the late HPSS professor. “When Tom let me know that I had won the prize, we both started crying,” says Colton. “That was one of the most amazing moments of my life. He had told me so much about Professor Warner and I was really honored.”
The faculty panel that selected Colton for the award was particularly impressed with a paper she wrote about the Mexican drug war in 2011, before the infamous kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán had been captured. “I wrote it for Tom’'s Combat and Culture class,” says Colton, “but what I was writing as part of my concentration was about more than just fulfilling requirements. The death toll in Mexico has been huge.”
Roberts’ course and the other classes Colton took on World War II heavily influenced Operation: TWIRL, the 19-minute film she made as her senior project. “I’m Japanese-American,” she explains. “My dad’s mother was in an internment camp during World War II, so studying the mid-1900s has helped me to understand my grandmother’s struggle and my own heritage.”
While Colton’s senior film focuses on her own family narrative, it also sheds light on the larger struggle all Japanese-Americans faced during the war. “Tom’s classes really helped me to construct that metanarrative within my film,” she explains. “I’m exploring how to use film as a medium to explore both past and present, and to examine how they’re intertwined.”
Colton says that majoring in FAV highlights the importance of collaboration since students have to work together and rely on each other’s strengths. “RISD taught me that I didn’t have to be the best at everything,” she explains. “And no matter what you do, there’s always going to be someone out there who won’t like it. But you still need to be true to yourself and to your voice, and not let the turkeys get you down, as my grandpa would say.”
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