For as long as Emma Watkins ’14 can remember, she’s been listening to her father’s stories. “I can remember looking out my window after my brother had fallen asleep and imagining the mythological world that he was describing. A lot of the things I’m interested in exploring academically now in terms of folklore and mythology come from bedtime stories.” Watkins’ father is Peddie writer-in-residence, Paul Watkins, and the bedtime stories were plucked from the canon of Welsh mythology.
Now Watkins is a Fulbright Scholar and Princeton University graduate, studying at Cardiff University in Wales this fall in their Masters in Celtic Studies program. Her senior thesis at Princeton, titled “Trailing Rhiannon,” was a musical play rooted in the conventions of traditional Welsh theater, and a meditation on storytelling. It’s the culmination of Watkins’ research project, in which she spent the summer traveling Wales, meeting with folklore experts and folk musicians, attending performances and visiting the actual locations referenced in myth. The play reinvents the tale of mythic storyteller Rhiannon while also covering Watkins’ journey into storytelling. She plans to continue to explore these themes while in Cardiff. “I’m interested in the mythology,” she said, “but it’s also about connecting to a tradition and understanding where my family comes from.”
When describing how she reached this point, Watkins said, “I can trace a line back to teachers I had at Peddie. I couldn’t take Matt Roach’s Anna Karenina class because I had another commitment at the same time, so he did a separate study with me. I took a class with Leigh Wood which pointed me in the direction of coming-of-age literature. There’s a path – a very strange and winding path – that can be traced to this point. I’m very grateful to the people who helped me get here.”