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Mackenzie Duan

Mackenzie Duan

Mackenzie Duan

2023 Davidson Fellow
$10,000 Scholarship

Age: 16
Hometown: San Ramon, CA

Literature: “Circles: The Irresolution of Repetition

About Mackenzie

My name is Mackenzie Duan, and I’m a rising senior from San Ramon, CA.

In the future, I would like to major in a field related to literature, philosophy, anthropology, or economics. Outside of academics, I play piano and trombone, and sing in a local choir. I love visiting museums, riding the BART, reading, and driving with my friends at night. I’m interested in interdisciplinary work across artistic practices, and am currently in the process of adapting one of my screenplays into a short film.

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"To me, being a Davidson Fellow represents, broadly, the degree of devotion that you have towards others and the world, and I am incredibly grateful to be included in this year’s cohort among such extraordinary people."

Mackenzie Duan

Project Description

Circles: The Irresolution of Repetition is a hybrid portfolio of prose, poetry, and screenplay that examines the unresolved friction of language and memory moving in circular patterns, relating to alternative futurities, Chinese-American histories, and the act of translation. With every repetition, an old myth is unraveled. Another call goes unanswered. Pushing back against linear systems of time, Circles investigates the cyclical nature of families, bodies of water, irreconcilable gaps, and the ontology of these things repeating: the messy, tender routes they take to recur and recur.

Deeper Dive

My project is centered around the mechanics of time: how to move across it, how to resurface within it, how to navigate the irresolution that emerges when stories, images, and lives begin to repeat. I was largely inspired by Claudia Rankine’s shapeshifting lyric essays, Franny Choi’s radical experiments with verb tense and reversals of time, and Maggie Nelson’s work in autotheory, as well as Rosi Braidotti’s nomadic theory and Lee Edelman’s outline of reproductive futurism. As a result, I wanted this project to gesture at a circular poetics and a directionless configuration of time.

I began working on Circles in the summer of 2022, at a slightly depressing juncture of my life. I was facing a lot of uncertainty and disillusionment regarding myself and my future—which I thought was shaping up to be very Dickensian—and amid that period of personal and global turbulence, language became a lifeline. Writing these pieces and excavating what I could never articulate felt simultaneously exhilarating, terrifying, and consoling. The bulk of the project was completed in November: reading critical theory and studying political philosophy under Dr. Monika Chao inspired me to apply philosophical analysis to works of art and literature, while studying history and current events helped to further inform my writing both politically and socially. I read hybrid literature, researched geometry, and conducted interviews with several artists and writers. Several pieces of Circles were also reviewed by previous mentors, including Kimberly Grey, Jenn Alandy Trahan, and Drue Denmon. I am endlessly grateful for their feedback, as well as the kind, generous help of my teacher, Ms. Hymel, and the invaluable guidance and support of my mentor Megan Baxter.

Overall, this project attempts to reconceptualize temporality. What I have always found equally frustrating and appealing about repetition is how it performs time not as a linear journey but as a cyclical resurrection of things, nebulous and indefinite, full of tangents, footnotes, codas, impossible equations, the living among the undead, directions that lead nowhere and destinations that contain their beginnings. I’ve returned again and again to the same stories, the same places, and the same people, all of which remain perpetually flickering sources of joy and beauty despite our unresolvable estrangement. I sincerely hope that by recognizing, enriching, and celebrating that irresolution, Circles can offer others the same bizarre comfort.


What is your favorite tradition or holiday?

Setting back the clocks at the end of Daylight Savings Time.

What is your favorite hobby?

Curating Spotify playlists

What are the top three foreign countries you’d like to visit?

France, Greece, and Italy

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In The News

San Francisco – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2023 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 16-year-old Mackenzie Duan of San Ramon. Duan won a $10,000 scholarship for her project, Circles: The Irresolution of Repetition. She is one of only 21 students across the country to be recognized as a 2023 scholarship winner.

Download the full press release here