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Janeite Spotlight: Introducing Na'dayah Pugh

Hello, dear readers! This year, we’ve begun a blog series highlighting Austen-lovers around the world—sharing how they first discovered Austen’s fiction, why they love Austen, how they’ve contributed to the Janeite community, you get the picture. Fans, who cultivate and engage in discourse surrounding Austen’s life and fiction, participate in workshops and conventions, host book clubs, and don I ❤️ Darcy merchandise with pride (but hopefully not prejudice—wink, wink), are the reason Jane’s spirit survives in the twenty-first century. We deserve a shout-out! And we deserve the chance to connect with like-minded individuals across the world. This week, we’re highlighting Na’dayah Pugh, a junior at UNC Chapel Hill who currently serves as Jane Austen & Co.’s very own Technical Director!


Na'dayah Pugh

Although Na’dayah Pugh was too young to recognize it, she first encountered Austen as a young child in the form of Amy Heckerling’s brilliantly funny cult classic Clueless (1995), starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd as the modern, glammed-up versions of Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, respectively. Na’dayah loved—and still loves—the film’s bright, fun aesthetic, which remains true to the original novel even while transporting Austen’s original characters into the wacky world of mid-90s Beverly Hills.

Perhaps an indication of Na’dayah’s age, Clueless is also one of the most youth-oriented Austen film adaptations, bridging the gaps between Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z audiences. At twenty years old, Na’dayah is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (JASP’s birthplace!), where she studies film, creative writing, and screenwriting. Her first intentional encounter with Austen’s fiction came when she read Northanger Abbey in a British Literature course during her freshman year, and later each of Austen’s works as part of Dr. Inger Brodey’s class in Austen studies.

In class, Na’dayah fell in love with Austen’s characters and language, as well as her subtlety as a writer. It’s fun to read between the lines of a story, after all, and Jane Austen’s prose is quietly witty enough to allow readers figure out for themselves what certain characters are thinking and feeling, scattered throughout the text in humorously scathing remarks that are still subtle enough to be missed by all but the most astute eye.

Checkmate! At JASP '23

After learning about the world of Austen in Dr. Brodey’s Austen Studies class, Na’dayah worked as a volunteer at the 2023 Jane Austen Summer Program’s in-person symposium dedicated to Austen’s juvenilia. As a volunteer, she loved to see so many people gathering to celebrate Austen’s teenaged writings, which she had studied at length with Dr. Brodey.

At the symposium, Na’dayah also debuted her short film adaptation of “The Beautifull Cassandra,” one of Jane Austen’s more humorous childhood writings. “Cassie,” which she originally wrote, directed, and produced as a class project, adapts the fun, youthful absurdity of Austen’s story to portray a young modern woman who goes about her day while imagining herself as an Austen heroine. To produce the film, Na’dayah simply grabbed a few friends and picked up her iPhone, adapting Austen’s juvenilia to “a very different medium with very little budget or equipment.” Set to the jaunty tune of Katrina & The Waves’s 1985 pop sensation “Walking on Sunshine,” the three-minute film perfectly captures the aesthetic of a late-nineties or early 2000s teen rom-com.

Now, Na’dayah serves as Jane Austen & Company’s Technical Director, coordinating all audio-visual aspects of the organization’s livestreams. If you’re a fan of JA&Co.’s content, you’ve likely seen Na’dayah smiling at you from a little box on the screen, right next to the faces of Inger Brodey, Eric Bontempo, David Palko, and the legendary Susan Allen Ford. She also creates flyers and other graphics for JA&Co.’s content and programming, updates the JA&Co. website to reflect current events and news, and maintains our YouTube page.

(Let’s give her a round of applause for keeping us less-technologically-inclined folks up to speed!)

“I wouldn’t call myself a Jane Austen scholar yet,” Na’dayah says when asked about the most challenging aspect of her job, “so that was a little daunting, knowing that I’m joining a team of people who are intimately acquainted with her works.” But while Na’dayah might be newer to Jane Austen fandom than some other members of the JASP team, she fits right in! She even penned the fabulous list of “7 Austen-Approved New Year’s Resolutions” on our blog at the beginning of 2024.

Na'dayah dazzles at the '23 JASP ball

Na’dayah loves working for JA&Co. and JASP because it allows her to converse freely with fellow fans and admirers of Austen’s work. Many of her friends are also Janeites—most of them in their late teens or early twenties like Na’dayah. “Maybe it’s because I’m an English major,” she says, “but a lot of the people I’m around really respect and admire and enjoy Jane Austen.”

Her favorite part of her job is meeting all of JA&Co.’s guest speakers, ranging from Austen-adjacent authors to scholars, craftspeople, musicians, playwrights, and other individuals with unique connections to Jane Austen or the Regency world. She is particularly excited about the 2024 line-up of events for JASP’s Austen vs. Brontë season. Thus far, JA&Co. has hosted Diana Birchall and Syrie James, Lesley Peterson, Talia Schaffer, and Laura Rocklyn to discuss these iconic nineteenth-century writers, and you can revisit these events on our website and YouTube page. If you haven’t already, you can register for the livestream on the Jane Austen House Museum and the Brontë Parsonage Museum here.

As she continues to familiarize herself with Austen fandom, one of Na’dayah’s biggest goals is to expand her knowledge of film and television adaptations. She likes it when Austen’s stories are updated to reflect a twenty-first-century zeitgeist, adding, “especially in terms of identity … because if you’re reading nineteenth-century works from England, you’re reading about a lot of white people, so I think being able to adapt those to include minorities and queer identities without sacrificing or totally negating the original work is important.”

The top three movies on her To-Be-Watched list are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), Emma (2020), and Persuasion (2022)—on the last of these, she comments, “I want to see if I hate it as much as everyone else!”

Going forward, Na’dayah plans to collaborate with yours truly on the long-anticipated Austen-Brontë content for Charlotte Brontë’s iconic gothic romance, Jane Eyre. Stay tuned, dear readers—for we’ve planned a few special surprises that you won’t want to miss!

Connect with Na’dayah on her website or YouTube channel.

Excerpted from Zoom interview with Na’dayah Pugh, March 24, 2024.


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