American Literature

at Cambridge

26 Nov RACHEL SYKES ‘Autobiographical Risk and the Time of Precarity in Contemporary Women’s Memoir’

Rachel Sykes is a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary American Literature at the University of Birmingham. Their first book, The Quiet Contemporary American Novel, was published with Manchester University Press in 2017. It is the first study to develop a theory of quiet as a narrative aesthetic in contemporary fiction and shows how, as a phrase, “the quiet novel” has a long and untraced history dating back to the 1860s in British and American periodicals. Post-quietness, they are developing new work based in contemporary feminisms, memoir studies, and popular culture. Their second book project, currently in the early stages of development, will function as an updated study of confession in an era of neoliberalism. They published an article on popular and critical use of the term oversharing and its relationship to gendered online identities with Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society and they are currently writing about discourses of risk and precarity in contemporary confessional writing.

Digital BAAS 2021: Call for Papers, deadline 30 Nov

April 6-11, 2021

Call for Papers

We are excited to announce details for the British Association for American Studies’s 66th Annual Convention — its first to be hosted entirely remotely. For several years BAAS has been building towards an event of this type, in order to transcend the exclusivity and waste of our traditional conference model. Our plans have been pushed forward by our familiar enemy Covid-19 but are equally motivated by our twin concerns of environmental impact and accessibility/inclusivity. As part of the ‘Green BAAS’ agenda, we are committed to reflecting upon the environmental impact of our activities, and to making positive changes to combat climate catastrophe. The decision to host a virtual conference presents the opportunity not only to minimise international travel, but also to highlight the work of members working in the environmental humanities, and to reflect critically upon the culture of academic conferences. Furthermore, we hope that the reduced costs associated with a virtual event will facilitate the participation of American Studies students and scholars across the globe, and will help generate new and productive networks and collaborations.

We welcome scholars from all disciplines and time periods whose work engages with the culture, politics, society, and history of North America, the United States and the Americas more broadly. Proposals on any aspect of American Studies are welcomed, but we particularly encourage proposals that engage with issues of sustainability and environmental studies.  BAAS is recruiting for a conference manager for this event. Please see the BAAS site for further details.


NYRB Classics: A discussion of Gaddis’s major novels, The Recognitions & JR, featuring Tom McCarthy, Lydia Millet, Joshua Cohen, & Dustin Illingworth

December 3, 2020, 5:30 PM

For the re-release of William Gaddis’s novels, The Recognitions and J R, Tom McCarthy, Lydia Millet, Joshua Cohen and moderator Dustin Illingworth discuss the enduring nature of these modern classics. This is part of an ongoing series with NYRB Classics, and will take place on Zoom. Register here:

Carl Van Vechten’s Harlem Renaissance Portraits at Beinecke Library: Online Exhibition

A novelist, critic, and promoter of the arts, Carl Van Vechten was also an avid portrait photographer, beginning when he first acquired a Leica camera in 1932. By 1939, he had made it his mission to photograph every notable African American working in the arts. Van Vechten’s prints, donated to the Library of Congress and Beinecke Library, as well as other individuals and institutions, number in the tens of thousands. His subjects included dancers, actresses, writers, artists, activists, singers, social critics, educators, journalists, socialites, and aesthetes.

Jean Toomer and “A Drama of the Southwest” with Vinson Cunningham at the Beinecke

Event time: Monday, November 9, 2020 – 4:00pm to 4:30pm

Vinson Cunningham, staff writer for The New Yorker, will discuss Jean Toomer and his unproduced play from 1935, “A Drama of the Southwest.”
Zoom webinar registration:
Toomer was, in Cunningham’s description, a modernist poet, novelist, religious omnivore, and occasional playwright .”
Cunningham joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2016. His writing on books, art, and culture has appeared in the Times Magazine, the Times Book Review, Vulture, The Awl, The Fader, and McSweeney’s, where he wrote a column called “Field Notes from Gentrified Places.” He previously served as a staff assistant at the Obama White House, and is based in New York City.
The Jean Toomer Papers in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at the Beinecke Library include notes, holograph, and typescript drafts of “A Drama of the Southwest.”



The Day Before O’Hara Died: Frank O’Hara and Friends

A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of the New York Poet, 50 years on


When: Sunday, July 24th, 2016; 11.00am – 8.00pm

Where: The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH

What: This one-day colloquium will bring together poets, academics and members of the public to celebrate the life, work and artistic connections of Frank O’Hara, the New York poet, art critic, film maker and curator (at MoMA) who died 50 years ago on July 25th, 1966.

The event is being organised by the North American Poetics Network of CHASE (Consortium for the Humanities and Arts South-East England) and will consist of 3 panels which will examine and discuss O’Hara’s legacy with members of the audience.  Keynote speakers include: Geoff Ward (Cambridge University), Daniel Kane (Sussex) and (TBC) Redell Olsen (Royal Holloway)

There will be evening performances by contemporary poets whose work has been influenced and inspired by O’Hara: Andrea Brady, Prue Chamberlain, Kayo Chingonyi, Caitlin Docherty, Jeff Hilson, Sophie Robinson. Peter Gizzi and Anne Waldman will also contribute via Skype / Video.

Papers: Abstracts (~200 words) of papers (15 minutes) are now being sought.  We are especially keen for contributions that place and examine O’Hara’s work and legacy in the contexts of his myriad friendships, connections and artistic interests.  O’Hara was so much more than just a New York poet and we want the discussion of his life and work at this event to reflect this. So, although we are looking for informed and informative academic papers for the panel sessions, we would like these contributions to be pitched so as to encourage discussion and engagement with the audience (which will include members of the public as well as academics).  In keeping with O’Hara’s style and poetics, we are hoping for a colloquium that is open and generous, serious and witty, conversational in the best sense.  This will be the best way of celebrating O’Hara’s work and his legacy, 50 years on from the day before he died.

Note: A limited number of bursaries to help graduate students attend and / or contribute are available due to a grant from the British Association for American Studies. These will be distributed on a first come first served basis.

Deadline for submission of abstracts: Friday, May 27th, 2016

Please email abstracts to:

(Organising committee: Ben Hickman (Kent); Jordan Savage (Essex); Nick Selby (UEA); Steve Willey (Birkbeck))

American Literature Symposium: “American Stuff”

Saturday 14 May, 2016
GR06/7, Faculty of English, 9 West Road, Cambridge

Keynotes: David Brauner (Reading), Pamela Thurschwell (Sussex)

Defending his unadorned, realist style, William Dean Howells remarked in a 1903 letter to Charles Norton: ‘I am not sorry for having wrought in common, crude material so much; that is the right American stuff.’ Bringing together graduate students and faculty from the University of Cambridge and beyond, this one-day symposium examines the kinds of ‘stuff’ that constitute American life, asking what role ‘common, crude material’ might play in literary and cultural history.

Twitter: @AmericanLitCam / #camamstuff

Registration is free, but places are limited. To register, please email


08:30 – 09:15 Registration

09:15 – 10:30 Panel 1: Miniature Connections

Chair: Fiona Green (Cambridge)

Brendan Gillott (Cambridge)
American in Miniature: Models as Mereology in Charles Olson

Wen Li Toh (Cambridge)
James Merrill’s poetics of surface

Alexander Spencer (Cambridge)
Evocations of Walt Whitman in the Contemporary American Novel

10:30 – 10:45 Break

10:45 – 12:00 Panel 2: American Collections

Chair: Kristen Treen (Cambridge)

Gabrielle Linnell (Cambridge)
The ‘mazed minds’ of Anne Bradstreet

Christy Wensley (Cambridge)
From Daisy Miller to Milly Theale: the American Girl as the Stuff for James

Diarmuid Hester (Sussex)
The Stuff of Fiction: Hoarding Manhattan

12:00 – 13:00 Lunch

13:00 – 14:00 Keynote 1

David Brauner (Reading)
‘Speaking of himself in the third person’: Self-Reflexivity and Subjectivity in Saul Bellow’s Short Fiction

14:15 – 15:30 Panel 3: Grammars of Affect

Chair: Edward Allen (Cambridge)

Ryan McRae Arnold (Cambridge)
Life at the Yam Level: Race, Stuff, and the Cruelty of Optimism in Ellison’s Invisible Man

Mathilde Sergent (Cambridge)
‘Fuzzy Football’: Material Jokes in Lorrie Moore’s ‘You’re Ugly Too’

Lola Boorman (Cambridge)
The Grammatical Exercise in Lydia Davis’s Stories

15:30 – 15.45 Break

15:45 – 17:00 Panel 4: Virtually Contemporary Stuff

Chair: Kasia Boddy (Cambridge)

George Cox (Oxford)
‘…Since these were only words, they tasted like excellent dark chocolate’: Scatology, Sex, and Superficiality in the novels of Jonathan Franzen

Penny Cartwright (Cambridge)
A vast undefined anarchism: Politicizing Thomas Pynchon’s Internets in Bleeding Edge

Jurrit Daalder (Oxford)
Rough Stuff: Authorial Cruelty in the work of George Saunders

17:15 – 18:15 Keynote 2:

Pamela Thurschwell (Sussex)
The Writing on the Wall: Adolescent Futures at Centuries’ Ends (Jude the Obscure (1895), The Awkward Age (1899) and Ghost World (1997))

Migration to New Worlds Database

Mapping Migration

A collection of materials on the ‘Century of Immigration’ is now available. Collection materials include unique primary source material on the ‘Century of Immigration’ (1800-1924): a period when hundreds of thousands of migrants left their homelands in Great Britain, Ireland,mainland Europe, India, China, Japan and other Asian countries to start new lives in the United States, Canada and Australasia.Materials include unique diaries, personal letters, oral histories and journals; each narrating the intimate journeys and challenges immigrants faced when settling in foreign countries.
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