Tharangi Fernando incorporates knowledge of creative writing, classics to write screenplay
The culmination of Tharangi Fernando’s education at the University of Mississippi was her honors thesis: a screenplay that draws equally on her two majors: English and classics.
The screenplay – the pilot episode of what she hopes will become a television series – is called “Gemini Chaos.”
“It’s the story of two female figures from Greek and Roman mythology, Gaia and Chaos, set in modern times,” she said.
The thesis was written under the guidance of her mentor, Chris Offutt, UM professor of English and an acclaimed writer known for his short stories, a memoir, novels and screenplays, including writing he has done on the hit TV shows “True Blood,” “Weeds” and “Treme.”
“I’d taken his screenwriting class when I was a freshman, and he was there for me through a tough year,” Fernando said. “He had my back and really encouraged me. I’ve never felt so encouraged to follow my dream as I’ve been by the professors in the creative writing program.”
Also helpful for her writing was an interdisciplinary, spring break class called Performing Democracy in Ancient Athens. Fernando traveled to Greece with the class and was especially fascinated by the Temple of Delphi while there.
“I knew I had to somehow incorporate the Oracle of Delphi into my screenplay,” she said.
A native of McComb, Fernando was raised by parents who were both immigrants from Sri Lanka, and she is a first-generation college student.
She decided to study classics about halfway through her freshman year because she was taking classes in Latin and classical mythology, two courses that piqued her interest in classical literature. Her professor asked if she’d ever considered becoming a classics major.
“As I thought more about it, I realized how much interest I had in that major, so I decided to pick it up, along with my major in English,” she said. “I want to use my classics degree to influence my style of writing as well as the content.”
She calls the atmosphere of the classics department nothing short of amazing.
“Every day, I’m surrounded by professors who push me to be my best and to guide me. I’ve been aided with financial and academic help by my department, and I feel at home here.”
The university also afforded her an opportunity to broaden her horizons with a trip to the United Kingdom to study there with poet Beth Spencer, another of her creative writing professors at UM. The trip was part of a semesterlong class in fantasy fiction and included a visit to the castle that was used for shots of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the “Harry Potter” movies.
“Beth Spencer has been incredibly encouraging about how to flesh out my ideas and also giving me confidence in my writing,” Fernando said.
Although somewhat sad to leave her mentors behind, she said she is excited about her plans. She is working on a book of 10 poems about her time at UM, from freshman year onward.
A December 2020 graduate, Fernando has been working at two popular Oxford restaurants, Saint Leo and Bouré, as a server and manager. She has worked 10 jobs during her student days, from restaurant work to being a nanny, and is proud of her self-sufficiency.
She is preparing to enter Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in higher education student services. Eventually, she plans to apply to attend a master’s program in creative writing.
“I’d like to teach at a university and write someday, but I also need a job that I can count on to earn a living and support me as a writer,” she said.
Story by Abigail Meisel/College of Liberal Arts