I am a scholar of twentieth and twenty-first century literature. I research the culture-forming work of institutions as forces in literary history, and how writers have responded to their frequently peculiar demands.
I am particularly interested in the interventions of the modern state, including nuancing how we think about the state as a cultural actor by centring the inner conflicts and unexpected consequences of state action.
State Sponsored Literature
I first addressed these questions in my AHRC-funded thesis, Officially Autonomous: Anglophone Literary Cultures and the State since 1945, which examined how the modern state intervened in the literary field after WWII to protect literary culture from the economic demands of the market.
My book State Sponsored Literature: Britain and Cultural Diversity after 1945 (OUP, 2020) is an in depth study of the British state’s involvement in the literary world. Addressing over 100 primary sources from 10 major public archives, State Sponsored Literature not only shows the extent of state-literary activity in foreign policy, education, and free expression. It also suggests this intervention was determined by the changing publics for literature after empire.
It won the 2021 University English Book Prize, the judges noting that ‘the subject needs an approach which can encompass its labyrinthine, complex and contradictory impulses and expressions, and receives it here’. You can listen to me discuss State Sponsored Literature on the New Books Network podcast.
statesponsoredliterature.com makes publicly accessible some of the materials I used, including: databases of state literary gatekeepers, writer profiles, multimedia resources including a book launch and discussion with fellow scholars Lyndsey Stonebridge, Shantel Edwards and Michelle Kelly. Please feel free to contact me if you require assistance with accessing the book.
Linguistic diversity and ‘linguistic imperialism’
My next project extends this interest in how we think about literary protection by examining the impact of state, missionary and publishing institutions as guardians of literature in indigenous languages. Amid increasing interest in linguistic diversity, the institutions of cultural production and what counts as ‘world literature’, this project argues for a deeper historical understanding of the often-dubious efforts to protect and promote indigenous languages against European linguistic hegemony. I am preparing a pilot on colonial West Africa partly funded by the Willison Foundation Charitable Trust.
African Literature and the Cold War
I have ongoing interests in African literary culture, particularly the Africa-based activities and magazines of the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom in the 1960s. I was an advisor for the 2022 retrospective of the artist Jacob Lawrence ‘Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club’ at the Chrysler Museum of Modern Arts.