Dr Rachel Sykes BA, MSt, PhD

Photograph of Dr Rachel Sykes

Department of English Literature
Lecturer in Contemporary American Literature

Contact details

Room 151, Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I joined the University of Birmingham in 2016 as a lecturer in Contemporary American Literature. My research focuses on the American novel, quietness, memoir, gender, and digital cultures. I am currently writing a cultural and literary history of quiet in the American tradition.


  • PhD American and Canadian Studies (University of Nottingham)
  • MSt English and American Studies (University of Oxford)
  • BA (Hons) English and Related Literatures (University of York)


As an undergraduate, I studied at the University of York and Mount Holyoke College, USA, before undertaking an MSt at the University of Oxford and a PhD at the University of Nottingham.

Prior to joining the University of Birmingham I taught English and American Studies at the University of Nottingham, the University of Leicester, and Nottingham Trent University; prior to that, I taught English in Russia and worked as a journalist in Dublin.

Until 2015, I also worked for Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership as an administrator.


I currently teach two third-year special modules, ‘TMI: Confessional Writing, from Rousseau to present’ and ‘The Modern Short Story’, as well as the second-year history, ‘Twenty-First Century Literature.’ I also lecture on second-year ‘Gothic’, ‘Genre’, ‘Gender and Sexuality’, and ‘Out There’ and have previously taught first-year ‘Poetry’ and third-year ‘Contemporary North American Writing.’

Postgraduate supervision

I would love to hear from students interested in themes related to my research: fiction post-2000; gender and sexuality in memoir and online cultures; contemporary women writers, including, but not limited to, Marilynne Robinson, Jesmyn Ward, Lydia Davis, and Chris Kraus.


My first book, The Quiet Contemporary American Novel, was published by Manchester University Press in December 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.

Building on my first book and its intersection with gender studies and digital cultures, I am currently planning my second monograph, TMI: Towards a Poetics of Oversharing. This project reads a common poetics in contemporary experimental women’s fiction, revising and expanding existing scholarship on modern confessional writing to examine the as-yet undefined concept of oversharing and its relationship with gendered online identities.

My work covers a broad range of writers, including Marilynne Robinson, Teju Cole, Alice Munro, Lynne Tillman, Richard Powers, Elena Ferrante, Chris Kraus, Lydia Davis, Maggie Nelson, Jesmyn Ward, and Kathy Acker. Both projects also reflect my wider interest in autofiction and other forms of narrative in which narrative action is not predicated by narrative “event”.

Other activities

I am currently co-director on the Centre for Contemporary Literature and Culture and chair of the Contemporary Studies Network, a bi-monthly reading and networking group. As part of CSN, I have developed a range of activities and events including a film screening and panel discussion on the 2016 US election (with Broadway Cinema, Nottingham), an email ‘roundtable’ discussion on the concept of the Anthropocene published by the Open Library of Humanities, and an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle (with Tyneside Cinema).

In June 2016, I co-organised a one-day symposium on the work of Marilynne Robinson, co-editing a special issue of conference proceedings for the Irish Journal of American Studies. I am currently also co-editing a collection of essays on Robinson’s work, due for publication in 2019 with Manchester University Press and continue to write for a range of publications including Review 31, LSE Review of Books, Glasgow Review of Books, The Toast, and This Recording.



  • [Forthcoming] Marilynne Robinson: Essays (Manchester University Press, 2019)
  • The Quiet Contemporary American Novel (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017)

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Book Chapters

  • [Forthcoming] ‘Marilynne Robinson’, The Routledge Companion to 21st Century Literary Fiction, eds. Robert Eaglestone and Daniel O’Gorman (2018)
  • ‘Marilynne Robinson’, Dictionary of Literary Biography 378: Novelists on the American Civil War (Columbia: Bruccolli Clark Layman, 2016)
  • ‘A failure of imagination? Problems in “Post-9/11” fiction’, Making Meaning of 9/11: Local Impacts, Global Implications, Robert Fanuzzi, Susan Rosenberg, and Michael Wolfe (eds), (Fordham: Fordham University Press, 2014), 248-262

Recent reviews

  • ‘“We”: Brit Bennett’s The Mothers’, Glasgow Review of Books (4 July 2016)
  • ‘Ripostes and Addendums: Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things’Glasgow Review of Books (27 October 2016)
  • American Tantalus: Horizons, Happiness, and the Impossible Pursuit of US Literature and Culture’, Journal of American Studies 50.2 (May 2016), 208-209

Co-edited articles & special issues


  • “I Love Dick and Bridget Jones are back, but not much has changed for women since the Nineties”, The Independent (24/09/2016)
  • BBC Woman’s Hour (28 September 2015)
  • “To overshare: the long and gendered history of TMI”, The Conversation (24 July 2015)