Graduating ASU student finds inspiration in archives

By

Kristen LaRue

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

Full-time graduate study in English had long been Leslie Weir’s dream before she entered ASU’s master's online program, a way to make a career change from the financial management industry towards teaching and research. Weir discovered a love of archival work while developing original research for her applied project: the first to be based on the novels of Elleston Trevor, a British-born, Arizona-based author of 18 acclaimed espionage novels, including the well-known “Quiller” series.

Driving regularly from her home in Surprise, Arizona to the ASU Tempe campus over one summer, Weir spent more than 176 hours poring through the 21 boxes of material Trevor gave to ASU Archives and Special Collections, including 13 previously uncatalogued boxes. Weir focused on the first eight “Quiller” novels, writing about these and hunting for information on the mysterious and elusive Trevor himself, about whom little biographical information is reliably known. She compared interviews he’d given, discovering that he changed his life story with each one. Weir persisted and pieced together what Trevor told reporters; she sought out and interviewed people who’d known him personally, including Marilyn Wurzburger, the former head of ASU’s Special Collections, and Jackie Hayes, a close friend of Trevor’s wife Jonquil. From these and other sources, she learned that Jonquil Trevor’s wartime work for British Intelligence services likely inspired the earliest “Quiller” novels.

Weir plans to apply to the English doctoral program at ASU so that she can become a teacher and can continue her research into relation between spy novels and real-life spies. She answered a few (unclassified) questions about those plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: In 2007 I graduated with my BA in English and began working in the financial industry. After seven years, I decided it was time for a change. Literature has always been a passion of mine, and I am happiest when I am reading or discussing a book, so I decided to take the leap and pursue my MA through the online program at ASU. I realized that more than anything I wanted to teach literature at the university level, as well as perform literary research, and I will continue to pursue that goal.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I realized that my true passion was 20th- and 21st-century literature, especially espionage fiction. Coming into the program, I planned on studying both British and American gothic literature, but in my second semester my focus shifted. I took a class on espionage and detective fiction with Dr. [Elizabeth] Horan, and found myself fascinated with the genre. Going forward, my research focus will be on more modern literature.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I really liked that they offered the MA in English online, the wide variety of classes, and the way the program was structured.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Get to know your professors, and utilize their knowledge. I have had the honor of studying with some really amazing professors while pursuing my degree and their help has been invaluable.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The Luhrs Reading Room at the Hayden Library was my favorite spot on campus. I spent close to eight months combing through the Elleston Trevor archives for my final MA project, so I got to know the staff there very well. They were all so helpful and nice!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be applying for the English literature PhD program at Arizona State University in January, and will hopefully be starting the program in August 2017. I plan on teaching at one of the Maricopa Community Colleges here in Arizona, and continuing to perform my literary research.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would use the money to help fund various animal welfare and conservation programs. There are some really amazing no-kill shelters, conservation groups, and animal sanctuaries all over the world, and they need consistent financial support in order to continue their good work.

 

The Department of English is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Elizabeth Horan contributed to this profile.