CNU Student Presents at NYU’s Jordan Center

An Interview with Matt Johnson


Photo from Matt Johson

Earlier this month, CNU student, Matt Johnson, was one of just 20 students from around the country to present his work at NYU’s Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. At the center’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, Johnson presented on Polish, feminist author Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, Flights. 

As a junior double majoring in English and History, Johnson plans to pursue the English Major with Distinction Program, which requires faculty mentorship and scholarship in the form of publication or conferences. 

For Johnson, his close study of Tokarczuk’s Flights began last semester in Dr. Margarita Marinova’s Studies in Women’s Literature course, which focused specifically on female European writers in translation. 

He did a presentation on Tokarczuk’s novel in class, “Something in that research clicked for me and so I found myself presenting for like 50 minutes, a whole class… the more I talked and the energy that I was receiving from people about the novel kind of excited me, and so I felt that there was a lot there to write about, and a lot there to explore.”

For the course, Johnson went on to write two different, but interconnected papers on Flights. So when Marinova heard about the symposium at NYU, she encouraged Johnson to apply and develop his existing papers into a presentation for the symposium. Johnson described his presentation as a “distillation” of the larger paper that he wrote for class. Entitled, “Weaving a Cosmos Through Tokarczuk’s Flights,” his analysis focused specifically on the concept of a “Tender Narrator” within the novel.

In the time leading up to his trip to NYC, Johnson worked with Marinova to hone and perfect his presentation, “A lot of it was just her working closely with me and encouraging me, supporting me and being willing to help me grow”

When asked about Johnson’s presentation at NYU, Marinova wrote, “I’m really proud of Matt… I think this speaks to the quality of our students here at CNU–clearly, our young scholars are on par with their colleagues at places such as Harvard, Yale, or NYU.”

 “I was not surprised to hear that his presentation was very warmly received. Few American students are familiar with Tokarczuk’s work, or Eastern European female authors in general. Matt’s talk was therefore not just fascinating and new to most, but also cutting-edge in terms of theoretical approach and cultural context. I am excited to see where his intellectual investigations will take him to next, and hope that other CNU students will be inspired to take classes on little known authors from distant parts of the world, and fall in love with their writing just as I have,” said Marinova.

At the symposium, Johnson listened to several other student speakers present on topics such as Russian economics and politics.

He expressed his initial nervousness about presenting in front of students from Ivy League schools, “I felt super overwhelmed.. A little nervous because I was so worried that maybe I wasn’t deserving of it, especially because I go to CNU which is a small 5,000 person school.”

However, he found that his presentation was very well received and followed by lots of questions from listeners, “They were attentive and they were understanding too, so there was a great dialogue that happened after the presentation.”

When asked what he gained from the experience, Johnson said, “I learned… to stop second guessing myself. There is a reason for what happens to me… I deserve to be in the places that I am in and everything that I do to support that is sort of a testament of my skill and also my dedication.”

He continued, “Also something that I’ve taken away is that there are places for me to be able to explore my interests, my passions. And to do so in an environment of like minded people who are equally as interested and willing to listen and to help me grow and to support the ideas I have.”

As for the future, Johnson plans to attend grad school after he finishes his time at CNU. He intends to apply directly for a PhD program and become a professor specializing in 20th-21st century African American literature.