Transatlantic Literary Women Symposium, Saturday 3 June 2017, 9.45-3.30 at Glasgow Women’s Library

This event was part of our first year programme – why not take a look at our upcoming events?

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Please join us at Glasgow Women’s Library on 3 June for our day symposium devoted to TRANSATLANTIC LITERARY WOMEN. The symposium is a collaboration between Glasgow Women’s Library and the Transatlantic Literary Women Series, sponsored by the British Association for American Studies and the US Embassy. We’re excited to be collaborating with GWL for our final event in the 2016/17 series, and we very much hope to see you all there!

As we head towards the centenaries of women’s suffrage in the UK and the US, this free symposium celebrates the achievements of transatlantic literary women. Join us for a friendly, engaging and informative day of talks, workshops, readings and performances, and a free lunch for all. With speakers from both sides of the Atlantic, there are talks and workshops on Jazz Age women and “women’s” advertisements, African American women touring and lecturing in Europe in the late nineteenth century, forgotten women, UK/US Black feminisms, creative writing, Sylvia Plath– and the chance to vote for YOUR transatlantic literary woman. All welcome!

All best- Laura

Laura Rattray (Reader in American Literature, University of Glasgow)


9.45-10.15 – Introductions and Welcome

10.15-11 – Talk: Age-Conscious Modernity

Melanie Dawson (The College of William and Mary)

11-11.30 Refreshments

11.30-12.15 -Talk: Transatlantic African American Women Writers and Racial Justice in the Age of Jim Crow

Gary Totten (University of Nevada, Las Vegas)

12.15-1.15 – Lunch (provided)

1.15-1.45 – Sylvia Plath and You

Tracy Brain (Bath Spa University)

1.45-3 – Choice of Workshops:

  • Workshop One: Claire Heuchan (University of Stirling): On Black Feminism Across the Atlantic
  • Workshop Two: Victoria Shropshire (University of Glasgow and GWL Board): Transatlantic Creative Writing Workshop
  • Workshop Three: Transatlantic Literary Women Series Committee (Louisa Burden, Marine Furet, Saskia McCracken and Laura Rattray @ University of Glasgow): YOUR Transatlantic Literary Woman!

3-3.30- Slam Poetry, Carly Brown

The whole event is free but advance registration is essential. Tickets are available here. We’re also looking for volunteers to make a case for THEIR transatlantic literary women, so email if you’re interested!

In the meantime, here are details of some of the talks and speakers you’ll be hearing on the day:

Still Youthful and LovelyAge-Conscious Modernity

Melanie Dawson (The College of William and Mary)

“Keep young and beautiful,” exhorts a popular tune from the 1930s, “if you want to be loved.” Drawing from advertisements, song, and modern American and British fiction, this talk explores a growing, transatlantic awareness of age and its role in representing personal value during the modern era. Works by such authors as Edith Wharton, Zora Neale Hurston, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Gertrude Atherton, Elinor Glyn, and Margaret Kennedy depict changing and conflicted attitudes toward the experiences of aging. While an image-laden popular culture frequently privileged the young, modern fiction raises many questions about how to consider the aging subject, especially in light of new developmental theories. What did new categories such as adolescence mean for older adults? What was one’s age worth? When could it be disregarded, and for how long? When should it be valued? Both popular trends and the questions surrounding them established a number of basic narratives encircling age and aging, many of which are still firmly in place.

Melanie DawsonMelanie Dawson is David and Carolyn Wakefield Term Distinguished Associate Professor of English at The College of William and Mary and the author of Emotional Reinventions: Realist-Era Representations Beyond Sympathy (University of Michigan Press, 2015) as well as articles focused on Edith Wharton, Henry James, Frank Norris, and constructs such as companionate marriage. She is at work on a book-length study of modernity and aging, which is focused on the works of Edith Wharton and her contemporaries.

Transatlantic African American Women Writers and Racial Justice in the Age of Jim Crow

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Jessie Redmon Fauset (Left) and Ida B. Wells (Right) (Public Domain Images)

A number of African American women writers and intellectuals traveled to Europe and the UK in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Gwendolyn Bennett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Anna Julia Cooper, Nella Larsen, and Dorothy Peterson. These women travel and write in the context of the violence and social limitations of the Jim Crow era. I focus on the travel writing of Ida B. Wells and Jessie Redmon Fauset, whose work grapples with the relationship between black mobility and racial justice. Wells traveled to the UK on antilynching lecture tours in 1893 and 1894, just before the legalizing of segregation through Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. In her newspaper columns about her travels for the Chicago Inter-Ocean, she rejects the role of tourist and emphasizes the connections between her increased mobility in Europe (versus the United States) and her antilynching work. Jessie Redmon Fauset’s 1921 and 1925-26 travel essays in The Crisis magazine also emphasize the increased freedom and mobility she enjoys in contrast to the class oppression that she observes in Europe. Both women use their transatlantic travel experiences to challenge stereotypes about African American writing and identity, suggesting ways in which the African American community might resist oppression and achieve greater cultural power.

Gary TottenGary Totten is professor and chair of the English Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is editor-in-chief of the journal MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. He is the author of African American Travel Narratives from Abroad: Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow (U of Massachusetts P, 2015), editor of Memorial Boxes and Guarded Interiors: Edith Wharton and Material Culture (U of Alabama P, 2007), and coeditor of Politics, Mobility, and Identity in Travel Writing (Routledge, 2015). He is past president of the Edith Wharton Society and the International Theodore Dreiser Society and has published more than twenty-five articles and book chapters on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century US literature and culture.

‘Sylvia Plath and You’

Tracy Brain, Bath Spa University

Sylvia Plath famously said, ‘My way of talk is an American way of talk’. Of course, there are many components to any ‘American way of talk’, but the one I want to focus on is Plath’s use of the second person point of view. I want to examine Plath’s peculiarly American way of engaging the many characters who are addressed by some of the speakers of her poems and fictions. One of the remarkable things about Plath’s poems is their ability to function as stories. One of her tools for making these stories immediate, and involving her reader, is the second person. If you love Sylvia Plath, and so many of us do, there will be many reasons for it. One of the likely reasons, I think, is that you feel she is talking intimately to you.

What can the second person ‘You’ do? How is it different – and like – the first person ‘I’? What, if anything, puts an American inflection on Plath’s use of the second person? Anecdotally, I have been told that the second person is ‘hard’ to write in. I always find this surprising — I have now written two second person novels, and find it one of the most natural voices to use, or perhaps I should say, to inhabit. But the second person cannot be used arbitrarily. My own starting point is that it must establish something unique and powerful – even obsessive – about the relationship between the speaking I and the You who is being spoken to. And once that relationship is established, the second person voice has to be sustained without strain. It needs to be a medium for developing that relationship between ‘I’ and ‘You’, or for transmitting some kind of change in at least one of them.

I want to explore some of Plath’s techniques for grabbing her reader and implicating them in the dramas that take place in her writing. I want, also, to try to explain what I see as some of the most important principles for making the second person work, using Plath as our guide. To do all of this, I will need – at least briefly – to establish the roots of Plath’s use of the second person narrative voice and how her writing was formed by her exposure to it. My focus will not be primarily on the letters Plath read (those by Keats and Thomas Carlyle among them), but on other literary and cultural contexts for the evolution of the direct address. There are vast sources for this, but the focus of this talk will be the specifically American antecedents of these narratives.

Photo 21 CroppedTracy Brain is Reader in English Literature at Bath Spa University, where she runs their highly regarded PhD in Creative Writing programme. She is the author of The Other Sylvia Plath (Pearson 2001) as well as numerous essays on Plath’s work. She is c0-editor of Representing Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and is editor of Sylvia Plath in Context(Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2018/19). She has published on Charlotte Brontë, and is contracted by Palgrave Macmillan to write a monograph about pregnancy and birth in the 18th and 19th century novel, beginning with Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. She is also a novelist.


Here’s what attendees at previous TLW events have said:

“incredibly stimulating, engaging, thought-provoking, fantastic”; “fun and informative”; “very interesting and an exciting opportunity”; “very welcoming and inclusive”; “really exciting”; “lovely event”; “really impressive by the work put in by the organizing committee – warm & inclusive atmosphere”; “friendly atmosphere, valuable and interesting project”; “very topical for women right now”; “very interesting, organisers very friendly”; “it was great! Very interesting speakers and lots of excellent conversation”; “Such a great opportunity to learn diverse ideas from very engaging speakers/always feels welcoming”; “very very enjoyable, great speakers”; I feel I’ve learned new things”; “Great”; “it’s been a great day – nice to have a diverse range”; “excellent”; “very diverse”; “really loved today’s workshop – illuminating, exciting, thought-provoking. Thank you!”

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