Ginger Lee’s Got Her PhD (a short memoir)

Dr Ginger Lee Thomason
Taken at Cambridge Botanical Gardens, 2021

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Where it Started

The journey started in the summer of 2016 when I decided that after my MFA that I wanted to go all the way to a PhD. Internet searches took me to schools all over the UK and right before I started putting my applications together I found one last school and that was Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.

My first contact was with Dr. Helen Marshall who informed me that the university was also opening a Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy (CSFF) and that my desire to research food in speculative literature would fit right in. After a lot of headaches and red tape in applying for a visa, which has left me in awe of anyone else who’s had to go through this exasperating process for more complex and permanent residencies, I had a start date: January 2017.

Although I was 29 when I started my postgraduate studies, I had never really “gone away to college before.” During my MFA with Fairleigh Dickinson University I had the chance to attend several week-long residencies, but nothing for so long. The first few months in Cambridge were hard on my being, until I started to find my place and the direction in which I wanted to take my initial PhD proposal into a defined project.


Initially, I had envisioned a short story collection looking at the various subgenres of science fiction and fantasy (SFF) accompanied by either a real or a fictional recipe (therefore adding even more layers of analysis in this gastro-meta storytelling). But things did not go as planned, which (for those of you reading this are considering a PhD or are currently in a postgrad program) IS COMPLETELY NORMAL, especially in creative practice based academia.

So, gone was my initial Odyssey in the Starwine Market (a brilliant title if I say so myself and one I hope to reuse someday) and taking the stage was How to Cook a Dragon (HtCaD). It was at Eastercon’s Ytterbium 2018 in Harrogate, Yorkshire that I knew that a novel could still achieve my goals of looking at food through the lens of various subgenres because HtCaD was itself a mixed genre story where I was able to both channel high and low fantasy modes and tropes and those of urban fantasy, and even some horror and gaslamp influences.

It was the right choice. Though it would take me a year to finish the first draft of the novel in June of 2019, the early reviews from my advisor, fellow PhD students, and others who’ve read it have had such good things to say about it and helped identify weaknesses that when addressed have strengthened HtCaD. I am so excited to be shopping it around to literary agents and publishers and hope to be able to share it with everyone soon. (Perhaps even nab a few awards? Hugos in Glasgow 2024?)

The research bit of the degree was more difficult, which is not a bad thing either. I am essentially carving out my own space in very new territory. I explored the French concept of terroir, or “the taste of place” and how it could be applied to literature as well as foodstuffs like wine, chocolate, and tea. A taxonomy emerged in my thesis identifying the Objects of Alimentation in research in addition to identifiable food-focused infrastructures of subcreation within world-building. As I progressed my confidence did as well, which was apparently reflected in my final thesis and I passed in April 2021 with very minor edits. I couldn’t believe it.

“What do you want for dinner?” and “What book should I read next?” are not as disparate questions one might assume straightaway. What is for dinner is just what is for dinner, for most people. However, both queries can encompass immense variations of the human experience, if only one meal or one story at a time.  For some, the question of dinnertime does not seem to carry the same magnitude of academic considerations as to what a particular work of literature has done in the building up of, or in the dismantling of, civilizations. Food as an integral part of literary theory and analysis is a growing niche, now recognized as deserving of its own scholarship. This thesis will seek to rectify and reconcile the bridges between the dinner table and the bookshelf.

From “Food and Cheer and Prose: The Gastronomy of Fantastic Literature” by Dr Ginger Lee Thomason

Oh, the Places You Can Taste!

As I was studying food in literature, I also paid close attention the the food and meals I enjoyed in the UK and on my trips to Ireland and France. Here’s a few of my favorites that I managed to catch a picture of before I took a bite.

“We are all, quite simply, the fruits from the orchard, the vegetables in the field, the bread fresh out of the oven, or the wine flowing from a cask.”

From How to Cook a Dragon

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Seen

One of the greatest things about literature is that stories have the fantastic ability to transport readers anywhere, even to places that have never existed outside of the aether of imagination. Anywhere, anytime, anyplace can be imagined by an author and interpreted by readers with the mere magic of words. Food holds similar enchantments, albeit of the kind that can actually be experienced by an eater. A dish or a flavor not only invokes different places and past memories, it can alter life experiences in profound or unexpected ways.

From “Food and Cheer and Prose: The Gastronomy of Fantastic Literature” by Dr Ginger Lee Thomason

What Comes Next…

  1. Submit novel to literary agents
  2. Write a few short stories
  3. Get healthy
  4. Plan for WorldCons in Chicon 8 in 2022 and Glasgow 2024
  5. Start the Books of Hexodus urban fantasy trilogy/series

Send a little congratulations to Ginger for getting her PhD!


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