Professorial Inaugural Lecture: Professor Susan Watkins
Date: Wednesday 26 October 2016
Time: 18:00 - 19:00 (arrival from 17:30)
Venue: Rose Bowl, City Campus
Women’s Post-Apocalyptic Fiction 1945-Present: Writing as Re-vision
Since the millennium there has been an increase in the production of novels and films that imagine the end of the world as we know it, usually as a consequence of climate change, globalisation, corporatisation and the unchecked excesses of techno-science. Contemporary women writers are no exception to this trend: novelists like Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Jane Rogers, Sarah Hall, Emily St John Mandel, Maggie Gee, Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor have all published fictions set after the apocalypse has happened. This is a genre with a long history: in this lecture Professor Watkins will examine some of the features of women’s apocalyptic writing across the period 1945-present. In the period 1945-1975, for example, women’s work in this genre was often published pseudonymously, magazine and paperback publication was common and women’s attitudes to technology and the Cold War were changing. Professor Watkins will argue that women writing in the post-apocalyptic mode throughout the period 1945 to the present have successfully transformed the genre by arguing for the possibility of creative outcomes for humanity post-apocalypse. Conventional male-authored apocalyptic fiction tends towards conservatism: traditional patriarchal and imperialist definitions of what civilization is are central. The narrative momentum after the imagined disaster is either towards the restoration of what has been lost during the apocalypse, or focuses on nostalgic mourning for the past, therefore perpetuating the status quo. Contemporary women writers present alternatives, however, as they focus instead on the ways in which patriarchy and neo-colonialism are intrinsically implicated in the disasters they envision, and successfully transform and rewrite the genre.
The lecture will focus on how a number of contemporary women’s post-apocalyptic fictions imagine the persistence of literature, story, narrative and the word in a post-disaster environment. Preservation of the literary text need not mean respectful loyalty to a concept of the author or the original; nor does it imply restoration of a shared notion of heritage. In many texts, pre-apocalyptic civilisations on a path to destruction can be characterised by their loss of reverence for words. However, female-authored post-apocalyptic texts offer readers more than a nostalgic longing for an imaginary world of linguistic plenitude, something that can be seen more unambiguously in male-authored post-apocalyptic fiction. The lecture will trace the different ways in which contemporary women writers make use of the strategy of rewriting and the idea of the palimpsestic text as key to interpretation in the face of apocalypse and examine the kinds of writing and art that are created and sustained post-disaster in their novels.
About Professor Susan Watkins
Susan Watkins is Professor in the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities and Director of the Centre for Culture and the Arts at Leeds Beckett University. Her main research expertise is in the field of contemporary women's fiction and feminist theory. She was awarded a BA (Hons) English Language and Literature from the University of Liverpool and a PhD from the University of Sheffield. Before being appointed to a senior lectureship at Leeds Beckett University in 1998 she was senior lecturer at the University of Chester for six years.
Susan is a founder member and formerly Chair of the Contemporary Women's Writing Association (CWWA) and previously an Associate Editor of the Oxford journal Contemporary Women's Writing. She was also Co-Editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature until December 2015.
Susan is the author of Twentieth-Century Women Novelists: Feminist Theory into Practice and Doris Lessing. She is co-editor of Scandalous Fictions: The Twentieth-Century Novel in the Public Sphere and Doris Lessing: Border Crossings and has published articles on women’s writing in the Journal of Southern African Studies, Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies, LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory and Feminist Review. She has co-edited special issues of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature and the Journal of Gender Studies.
Susan’s earlier research work focused on the Nobel prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing, examining the treatment of race, nation, gender and genre in her writing. Her current research projects include a co- edited collection of essays on British Women’s Writing 1945-1975, which contains her own chapter on women’s science fiction writing of this period, and a book on contemporary women’s post-apocalyptic writing.
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