American Literature

Lydia Davis Collected Stories

The RAI has a long history of enriching the study of American literature through its seminars and symposia. The Esmond Harmsworth Lecture in American Arts and Letters is the centrepiece of the university’s American literary calendar and has been given by some of America’s most eminent writers, including Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, C.K. Williams, Tobias Wolff, Marilynne Robinson, Jennifer Egan, and Lydia Davis.

The RAI hosts research seminars, classes, and conferences in American Literature and is home to a thriving community of graduate students. The regular American Literature Research Seminar (ALRS) brings scholars and critics from across the world to the RAI to present groundbreaking and influential work. The 2020-21 convenors are Professor Lloyd Pratt and Dr Nicholas Gaskill.

The termly RAI Book Club brings together a panel of experts to discuss a topical book – and sometimes the author as a guest speaker. Recent books in the RAI Book Club have included Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval with Saidiya Hartman; Barack Obama’s A Promised Land; and Joe Sacco’s Paying the Land with Joe Sacco and one of the former Dene Chiefs featured in the book. You can watch past RAI Book Clubs here.

A series of public-facing events entitled 'Open Friday' brings authors, academics and readers into conversation. Speakers have included the James Tait Black Winner Benjamin Markovits, the Costa Prize Winner Andrea Wulf, Mark Greif, editor of n+1 magazine, and Eileen Myles, the acclaimed poet and writer.

We also regularly hold Book Launches for our RAI Fellows and other Americanists with discussion of the book from an expert panel. Recent launches include Laura Rattray’s Edith Wharton and Genre: Beyond Fiction, Alice Kelly’s Commemorative Modernisms: Women Writers, Death and the First World War, and Tessa Roynon’s The Classical Tradition in Modern American Fiction. Watch our past Book Launches here.

Faculty and researchers

The Drue Heinz Professorship of American Literature is held by Lloyd Pratt, a Fellow of St John's College who specialises in American and African American literature from 1800 to the present. Other English Faculty members with research interests in American Literature include:

  • Dr Rebecca Beasley, Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow at The Queen’s College, whose research interests include Anglo-American modernist poetry, especially in relation to the visual arts.
  • Dr Matthew Bevis, Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow at Keble College, interested particularly in American poetry and poetics — from Dickinson and Whitman to Frost, Stevens, Jarrell, Bishop, Ashbery and others.
  • Dr Merve Emre, Associate Professor of American Literature and Tutorial Fellow at Worcester College, whose particular interests lie in the novel after 1945, literary institutions, the practices and politics of reading, and the history of the humanities.
  • Dr Nicholas Gaskill, Associate Professor of American Literature and Tutorial Fellow at Oriel College, who works on American Literature from around 1830 to the present, pragmatism, aesthetics, philosophy and literature, and critical methods.
  • Professor Christine Gerrard, Professor of English Literature and Tutorial Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall. Her teaching interests include eighteenth and nineteenth century Transatlantic Literature, and American poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • Dr Patrick Hayes, Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow at St John’s College, working on Philip Roth, and the nature and value of literature in the modern period.
  • Dr Diana Leca, Robin Geffen Career Development Fellow in English at Keble College, specialising in English literature, criticism, and theory, with a special interest in 20th-century American poetry.
  • Dr Erica McAlpine, Associate Professor and A C Cooper Fellow and Tutor in English Language & Literature, St Edmund Hall, specialising in 19th to 21st century Poetry, Romanticism and American Literature.
  • Professor Kate McLoughlin, Tutorial Fellow at Harris Manchester College, who has research interests in 19th- to 21st-century American literature, particularly war writing, modernism and Jewish American literature.
  • Dr Rachel Malkin, Departmental Lecturer in English Literature, who works on c20th and c21st American writing and the novel post-1945.
  • Professor Laura Marcus, FBA, Goldsmith's Professor of English Literature and Fellow of New College, whose work focuses on 19th and 20th century literature and culture, including life-writing, modernism, and Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury culture.
  • Dr Michèle Mendelssohn, Associate Professor and Fellow of Mansfield College, who specialises in 19th and early 20th century British and American literature, and in transatlantic studies.
  • Dr Tessa Roynon, Research Fellow at the RAI, specialising in African-American Literature and modern American fiction.
  • Dr Tara Stubbs, Associate Professor and Director of Studies in English Literature and Creative Writing at Kellogg College, whose research focuses on American literature and Irish culture.

Conferences, seminars and events

Recent conferences and book events at the RAI have covered writers and topics including:

  • 'Rhetorics of Reading: American Contexts and Methods in Literary Studies', organised by RAI Senior Fellows Nick Gaskill and Rachel Malkin
  • 'The International Ralph Ellison Symposium', hosted by RAI Senior Fellow Tessa Roynon
  • A book launch, seminar and discussion for Navigating the Transnational in Modern American Literature and Culture (Routledge), ed. Tara Stubbs (Oxford) and Doug Haynes (Sussex)
  • 'Alain Locke in the 21st Century', an international conference which featured lectures from Kenneth Warren (Chicago), Jacqueline Goldsby (Yale), Paul Gilroy (KCL), Sarah Meer (Cambridge)
  • A five-day interdisciplinary masterclass on Sylvia Plath, with a special focus on her manuscripts and landscape poems
  • The conference of the Emily Dickinson International Society
  • A one-day symposium on 'American Work', with a keynote from Kasia Boddy (Cambridge) and postgraduate and early career faculty speakers from across the UK.
  • An 'Enchanted Critique' round table, including lectures from Nancy Bentley (Pennsylvania), Elizabeth Dillon (Northeastern), and Emily Ogden (Virginia).