University of Cambridge Contemporary Research Group

Category: Events

‘What Counts as Contemporary Fiction? Scale, Value, and Field’ – JAMES ENGLISH


‘Scholars of contemporary fiction face special challenges in making the turn toward digitized corpora and empirical method. Their field is one of exceptionally large and uncertain scale, subject to ongoing transformation and dispute, and shrouded in copyright. I will present one possible way forward, based on my work for a special issue of Modern Language Quarterly on “Scale & Value” that I’m co-editing with Ted Underwood. My project uses quantitative relationships among mid-sized, hand-made datasets to map the field of Anglophone fiction from 1960 to the present. Some significant findings of this research concern a shift in the typical time-setting of the novel and a concomitant change in the relationship between literary commerce and literary prestige.’


Jim English’s books included The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value(2005) and The Global Future of English Studies (2012). A past editor of Postmodern Culture, he co-edited with Rita Felski a special 2010 issue of New Literary History on “New Sociologies of Literature.”


You might also be interested in Mark Algee-Hewitt and Mark McGurl’s pamphlet for the Stanford Lit Lab, published in January 2015:  ‘Between Canon and Corpus: Six Perspectives on 20th-Century Novels’.

28 Oct: Frank McGuinness on Sean O’Casey


The group meets several times a term, generally on Tuesday evenings at
8.45 in the Parlour, Magdalene College.  All are welcome, to individual
sessions or the entire series.  The proceedings are informal, questions
can be asked by those attending or not.

The first session of this year is scheduled, unusually, on a Wednesday:

28 October
8.45 p.m.
The Parlour
Magdalene College

Wine and whiskey served

FRANK McGUINNESS, ‘Rewriting the Easter Rising: Sean O’Casey’s /The
Plough and the Stars/’

Frank McGuinness is a playwright and poet - author of, among other
works, /Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme/,
/Mutabilitie/, and /Someone Who'll Watch Over Me/.  He is the 2014
recipient of the Irish Pen Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish

Any questions to jk10023

28 Oct: Poetry Workshops start

Prof Peter Gizzi, 'Reading / Writing Poetry Workshop', 6 classes, weeks 3-8, Wednesdays, 1-3pm in GR05, English Faculty.

Prof Peter Gizzi, the visiting Judith E Wilson Poetry Fellow, offers an informal reading and writing workshop engaging with vanguard American poetry. The workshop will read and also write out of the texts discussed. Students will be expected to engage in both reading and writing poetry. The workshop will demand a serious interest in contemporary American vanguard poetry and poetics. Numbers may be limited. 

Anyone interested in participating in this workshop is asked to apply by writing to Peter Gizzi, by sending 2-3 pages of their writing to him by email at:
 <> by Sunday, the 26th of October. The first workshop will be on Wednesday 28th October.

24 Oct: Post-Conflict Poetry

*Post-Conflict Poetry: A Cambridge PEN* *event*
/Part of the Festival of Ideas/

Cambridge Student PEN presents poetry out of fractures: post-conflict
writing that has helped to heal the destruction of conflict in Ireland,
the Balkans, Israel and Palestine, and elsewhere. There will be readings
and poems on display. In between readings, audience members will have a
chance to respond to the poems.

Poems will be written on scraps of cloth, on broken plates and stone,
and built together into a mosaic of poems and disparately unified work.

All welcome, feel free to drop in or out.

Saturday 24th October, 4:30
Drama Studio, English Faculty

24 Oct: The Alchemical Landscape

The Alchemical Landscape

Contemporary writers, film-makers and musicians are increasingly investing
the English landscape with notions of magic and the occult. As part of this
year's Festival of Ideas, Yvonne Salmon and James Riley present a field
guide to this 'geographic turn'.

Faculty of English, GR06/07
24 Oct 2015, 6:30pm - 7:30pm

All welcome.

This event has been featured as part of the Festival's Speaker Spotlight




5th MARCH 2015 at 6pm.   



Scott McCloud, cartoonist and seminal theorist –  the ‘Aristotle of Comics’ –will discuss his new book The Sculptor with John Lennard.

‘the best graphic novel I’ve read in years. It’s about art and love and why we keep on trying. It will break your heart.’ Neil Gaiman

‘a wonderful testament to the power of comics’ The Independent

‘a brilliant and gripping book. As absorbing as a Victorian novel in terms of character and moral ideas, it somehow manages to be both an inquiry into the subjectivity of art and a zippy portrait of 21st-century hipster urban life. Plus, it’s a super classy homage to all things Marvel. Quite how McCloud pulls this off, I don’t know.’ The Guardian


Contemporaries Critical Slam

small critical slam

12th JUNE  5-6.30pm

English Faculty, 9 West Road, G06-G07

Granta’s recently released issue 123 (The Best of Young British Novelists 2013) makes implicit but nonetheless bold claims about the nature of contemporary writing in Britain. Through its selection of the ‘best’, it suggests what we should value, who we should watch, and what aesthetic and thematic trends ought to be singled out as the most interesting issuing from the country’s current writers.

But do we agree? Is Granta’s ‘best’ really Britain’s? Do the authors selected tell us anything novel about the state? Does the selection represent ‘Britain’ in any meaningful way?

Join us for wine, snacks and a ‘balloon debate‘ on Granta issue 123.

Over the course of the evening, we will discuss the works collected in the issue, tackle the categories ‘Best’, ‘British’, and perhaps even ‘Young’, and discuss the shape and nature of contemporary writing in Britain today.

Join the not-so-polite debate.

Copies of Granta 123 are available to borrow or buy at a reduced rate from the desk at the English Faculty Library.

To register for the event email your name and affiliation to:

contemporaries at


 For more discussion see our ‘Conversations‘ page


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