Awake and Present: A roundtable on why contemporary literary studies matters

Chair: Zara Dinnen (University of Birmingham)


Dr Siân Adiseshiah (University of Lincoln)

Dr Jennifer Cooke (Loughborough University)

Dr Caroline Edwards (Birkbeck, University of London)

Dr Rose Harris-Birtill (University of St. Andrews)

Dr Caroline Magennis (University of Salford)

Dr Nicky Marsh (University of Southampton)

In the age of speculative finance, employment by smartphone app, globalised production chains, and nano-imaging technologies the experience of “contemporary fiction” far exceeds reading contemporary literature. Despite this explosion of what we might think of as the speculative imaginaries of life today, old modes of mediation—poetry, the novel, drama—continue to be popular, vital ways to encounter, appreciate, critique and inhabit everyday life. How best to apprehend such a multiplex literary environment?

As literary critics of and in the contemporary, we need to acknowledge our immersion in this emerging scene, not feign some critical distance. The contemporary literary world is also the contemporary social world, as we see in Claudia Rankine’s lyric essay Citizen, a devastating account of racism in the US and UK today that is published as a print book but speaks with and to multiple media; Gillian Slovo’s verbatim theatre production based on the trials of those arrested during the 2011 London riots; the work of Words Without Borders, connecting International writing and readers of English around the world; the culture of Amazon, selling vegetables off the backs of books. This roundtable invites experts in the field of contemporary literary studies to discuss the following provocation: what questions about the world today are scholars of contemporary literature uniquely able to raise?

This roundtable is hosted by The British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS).

Friday 7th July, 12.30