Class of 2018: from trauma to triumph

My attackers made me a victim for the 20 minutes they beat me – they weren’t going to make me a victim for the rest of my life

Anthony Anderson had a love of English for as long as he could remember, but it was only after a horrific attack in his own home that he found the strength to pursue his passion for the written word.

That passion has now led him the stage of the Stadium of Light today to collect his English Master’s Degree and pick up the John Buchan Prize for the Best Dissertation by an MA English Student at the University of Sunderland.  

His lecturers selected his work for the prestigious annual prize for its “exceptional standard” and described him an “incredibly resilient individual and a “real life-changer”.

The attack happened in 2010 when the 36-year-old answered a call at the front door of his flat only to be punched in the face by a man armed with a hammer, this was followed by another four men who dragged him inside, tied him to a chair and beat him for the next 20 minutes as they ransacked his home in Washington.

They broke every bone in his face, and it was only emergency surgery which saved him from being deformed for the rest of his life.

The men were never caught, and it took Anthony a year to recover from his injuries. He endured months of surgery to rebuild the structure of his face with titanium plates and it was six months before he could eat properly with his weight dropping to just eight stone, in his words, he says: “It was a pretty rough time for me”.

Despite the ordeal and having been made redundant from his managerial role with a national bingo and casino chain, it was while he lay recovering, he thought about how to could take his life forward.

“The attack was a traumatic experience to say the least, and the pain after surgery was at times excruciating. I’m well aware the others may have dealt with it differently, but I had a great network of family and friends around me, who helped me focus. The attackers made me a victim for 20 minutes, but they weren’t going to do it for the rest of my life, that’s for sure.”

His love of English and creative writing had never wavered since his school days, but he admits he made the “wrong” choices in his early days from giving up a place at London’s School of Music to completing a History BA degree, before working full-time for 10 years.

He decided he would finally take the plunge back into higher education and completed an English and Creative Writing Course with the Open University, all while working full-time.

He loved the course and was inspired to take his career further by signing up for the Master’s degree at Sunderland, but his confidence of returning to the classroom after such a long time made him apprehensive. However, he says: “If you’re going to do something, time is of the essence, you literally never know what’s going to be around the corner, it’s what I say to the younger students now. Life has a habit of interfering with the best laid plans so I’m of the mindset now – you just go ahead and do it.”

Despite that early wobble, Anthony found university life and his fellow students of all ages and backgrounds, inspiring, and his grades continued to rise.

He also managed to overcome a collapsed lung half way through his term and had to take a month off to recover. Despite the setback he still managed to achieve an 85 per cent grading for his dissertation, based on culturally traumatic events that indelibly marked society from the Holocaust and Slavery right up to the modern #MeToo movement and how Gothic Science Fiction confronts the patriarchal issues in our society.

The work was selected for the John Buchan Prize. John Buchan was a novelist, historian, journalist, politician, soldier and public servant, and is best known for this influential espionage novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Anthony was presented with his award at the University’s Winter Graduation Ceremonies by John Buchan’s granddaughter, Laura Crackanthorpe.

Anthony Anderson with Vice Chancellor, Sir David Bell

Anthony said: “When I started this journey, I never expected to be winning any awards, and this was the first time I’d written a piece like this. So, it was a complete shock when I was told I’d won because John Buchan is legendary, so it’s a huge honour.”

Dr Alison Younger, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Sunderland, said: “Anthony thoroughly deserves this award; his work was exceptional, and he was a joy to teach. We were so impressed with his resilience, given all he’s been through, he’s a real life-changer.”

Long term, Anthony, from Washington, wants to eventually teach his beloved English subject, and will begin his PhD next February at Sunderland.

He says: “Studying the Masters made me realise how much I love the research side. Being in this environment you hear about new ideas all the time and it’s exciting. The academics are at the top of their game and it has benefited me from working with people like Alison and Dr Colin Younger, who give you this confidence to go out and do your own work, not just to recycle arguments you’ve heard before, but think about what you want to say. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

The University of Sunderland’s School of Culture has been working closely with the John Buchan Society and John Buchan Story Museum on a number of collaborative projects.  These have included the digitisation of the Society’s Journal and the redevelopment of the Museum’s website.  For 2018 the Museum, in Peebles, Scotland, helped create a centenary exhibition on John Buchan, as Minister of Information in the final year of World War One.

Steve Watts, Head of the School of Culture, added: “I am delighted with the close collaboration that has been developed with the John Buchan Society and the John Buchan Story Museum.  The University has been working on several projects with the Society and Museum to support them in their aim of making their Journal and artefacts available on-line and accessible to everybody.   

“We would like to join Laura in congratulating Anthony, a truly deserving winner of this year’s John Buchan Prize.”

John Buchan

John Buchan (1875-1940) was born in Perth, Scotland. As well as popular fiction, Buchan was also an historian, diplomat and politician. He was Minister of Information from 1917, was elected to Parliament in 1927, and was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1935, where he died, before his ashes were returned to the UK.

John Buchan’s most famous work, The Thirty Nine Steps, was first published in 1915, and was an instant success, particularly among soliders in the trenches during World War One. The book has been adapted for film, TV, radio, stage and even as a computer game, and has never been out of print.

In 1935 he was given the honour of the First Baron of Tweedsmuir. Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada, was named in his honour.