Voices and Ideas

2018 Sibley Fellowship Winner

By Bailey DeSimone 

Kaliane Ung, a Ph.D. candidate in French literature at New York University, performer, and published author, is the 2018 recipient of Phi Beta Kappa’s Mary Isabel Sibley Fellowship.

“Wounded Writings: Joë Bousquet, Hervé Guibert, Violette Leduc, Simone Weil”, Ung’s winning project proposal, explores the themes of violence and suffering through the case studies of the four twentieth-century French authors. She plans to use the fellowship to travel to France, where she will see Hervé Guibert’s photographs and read the manuscripts of the three authors at the Bibliothéque National de France in Paris and the Institut Mémoires de l’Edition Contemporaine in Caen. In September 2018, Ung will present a paper on the correspondence between Simone Weil and Joé Bousquet at a journé d’études in Carcassonne, France.

“My dissertation...examines different ways of healing through the power of language,” Ung explains. “I investigate writing about one’s suffering as a form of self-invention, and I argue that this type of autobiographical writing is a performative and transformative act. It also conjures up different definitions of the body as textual apparatus or prosthesis.”


"I am delighted and grateful to be the recipient of the Mary Isabel Sibley Fellowship from Phi Beta Kappa," Ung says. "Influenced by French feminism, my project explores the recovery of agency when the female body is violated and hurt by the enforcing of patriarchal norms, so it is an honor to be supported by an initiative aiming at helping young women pursue French studies."


"Such fellowships are rare and precious for young scholars who need time to refine their dissertations by going to France for archival research," she adds. 


Thrilled about her research trip, Ung outlines an impressive itinerary for her time in France: 


"I will see Hervé Guibert’s photographs at the Galerie Agathe Gaillard in Paris. I will also investigate a version of Violette Leduc's La Folie en tête at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, on the Richelieu site in Paris, in order to date the manuscript, comparing it to other versions housed at the IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l'Edition Contemporaine) in Caen. I will also read documents on Bousquet, Leduc, and Weil's contributions to the journal Les Cahiers du Sud, whose archives are based in Marseilles."

French language and culture has influenced Ung from a young age. “I was born near Paris and grew up in Martinique, in the Caribbean,” she recalls. “I studied English, American, and French literature at the Université Aix-Marseille, in the south of France. I then completed a MSc in Comparative Literature at the University of Edinburgh. I wrote my thesis on coming of age novels in Decadent European literature, focusing on female teenagers and the subversion of gender norms during the turn of the century.”

Through her passion for language, literature, and writing, Ung has incorporated learning as a continuous theme in her life. “I am very fortunate to have had the chance to explore different artistic and scholarly paths, and to follow my tastes and intuitions,” she says. “Every day is a chance to expand your abilities, learn new skills, and develop your curiosity.”

Foreign language skills are an increasingly important component of a liberal arts education across the world. Ung views foreign language education as a facilitation of “tolerance and hospitality,” she says.

“[It teaches] values that make us grow as critical thinkers and efficient educators,” she elaborates. “Working in a foreign language has become a crucial skill for navigating the challenges of  globalized world.”

Ung has studied texts in French, English, Spanish, German, and Latin, and this is a list that she hopes to expand. “I wish to learn more languages in the future!” she states.

Acting is another interest of and source of inspiration for Ung. She pursued her desire to act through studying and performing in France from 2008 to 2013. As part of her work towards her Ph.D., she studied Oriental and Western performing traditions and learned from prominent directors. She continued to develop her acting style through performing Bharata Natyam, Indian classical dance. 

In following her interests, both academically and professionally, Ung has observed a connection. “Acting has also inspired my teaching style,” she says, as she prefers assignments that allow for creative expression. “Students never fail to surprise me with their creativity...it is a great joy to teach.”

Ung’s achievements in her studies and research have allowed her to experience success in multiple ways. “I envision success as being able to do the things I love on a daily basis,” Ung says. “I am passionate about all the aspects of my job: research, writing, teaching, and it is a great plus to be able to read, write, work on, and live with literature every day.” Ung has also published works of fiction in Montréal, Québec.

Ung advises students of the liberal arts to maintain a sense of positivity and to be prepared for the unexpected. “Inspiration comes when you least expect it,” she encourages. “Dare to be ambitious—you never hit higher than you aim, so aim high!”

Fun Fact: You can spot Ung advocating for equal pay in “Laboratoire de l’Egalité,” a French advertisement campaign, as well as the Rolling Stones’ “Doom & Gloom” music video. She has also worked in the famous Pierre Hermé bakery in Paris.



Kaliane Ung in front of the cathedral of Rodez, retracing Violette Leduc’s steps and the journey she describes in her travel diary Trésors à prendre.


Bailey DeSimone (ΦBK, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2017) is an Archives Intern with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a Library Assistant with the Council on Foreign Relations. At Chapel Hill, DeSimone majored in history and global studies. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is home to the Alpha of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.


(Posted on 5/8/2018 )