The Department of English Literature is delighted to announce the appointment of two exciting writers to teach on our courses on creative and persuasive writing, and to join in our research and outreach activities.
Kate Clanchy is a writer of fiction, poetry and drama. Kate’s short stories have won the BBC Short Story Prize, and the V.S. Pritchett Prize. She has had eleven plays produced on BBC Radio. Of her novel, Meeting the English, the New York Times noted “there isn’t a dull scene”, while the Guardian described it as “richly conceived, original and very entertaining.” Her memoir of her Kosovan neighbour, Antigona and Me, was awarded the Writers Guild Award for Best Book.
Shelley Harris is a bestselling novelist. Her first book, Jubilee, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. It was featured on Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, and as a Richard and Judy Book Club Choice. The Times described her second novel, Vigilante, as “entertainment wrapped around a tense thriller.”
The Head of the School of Literature and Languages, Professor Gail Marshall, said: “We are very pleased to have Kate and Shelley join the team. Not only do they both have fascinating writing profiles – they also have impressive track records as teachers.”
2018 marks the centenary of the extension of the franchise to include (some) women, and the Department of English Literature is collaborating with colleagues in the Department of History and with a group of Part 3 students to present a series of free events to celebrate this anniversary.
Friday 18th January, Palmer Building Room 104, 1-3pm, ‘Debates and Doughnuts: Is Feminism Dead?’: this event is organised by two students who would like to reignite feminist debate on campus. Predominantly student-facing, the aim is to draw in students and staff from several Schools. The students hope that this will reignite the RUSU Feminist Society, and RUSU support is being sought for the event. All welcome – free doughnuts!
Thursday 8th February, Van Emden LT and first floor foyer, 6-9pm: ‘Inspired by Vote 100: Celebrating Forgotten Heroines’. The evening is the idea of a Part 3 student in connection with a work placement for ‘Literature, Media, Education’, and the planned event splices activity between SLL, MERL, and Dr Jacqui Turner’s Vote 100 and Astor 100 impact projects. The event will include lectures, a celebratory party, and an exhibition organised in liaison with MERL and Special Collections. The event aims to connect issues of equality with issues of education, and it will include a ‘keynote’ lecture given by Dr Turner, mini lectures by Dr Madeleine Davies, Dr Mary Morrissey, and Professor David Stack, as well as student contributions (‘Why this heroine matters to me’).
Thursday 8th March, Edith Morley Building, Room G25, 5-7pm: ‘International Women’s Day Debate and Celebration: ‘Press for Progress’. Dr Madeleine Davies (SLL) organises an ‘International Women’s Day’ event for students every year. This takes the form of talks from senior colleagues at UoR and a student-led debate following the talks. The event is primarily student-facing and is always a lively affair. The evening will conclude the series of celebrations that constitute ‘Feminism 100’.
The three events involve significant levels of collaboration between staff across the university and they also involve close working partnerships with our students. The organisers of the events hope that the focus on equality issues and questions of inclusion central to this series of talks, debates and celebrations will refuel significant conversations in a year that marks a crucial centenary in the history of equality.
To participate in any (or all) of these events, please contact Dr Madeleine Davies, email@example.com, or Dr Jacqui Turner, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I first met Tony Watkins in the early 1990s at a children’s literature conference in Oxford, little imagining that I would be able to join him as a colleague at Reading just a few years later in 1995, when I was appointed as a junior lecturer here. Tony had founded the MA in Children’s Literature in 1984 at the then School of Education at Bulmershe as the first MA in the field to be accredited as a masters degree in literature, rather than in education or librarianship studies (as is still mostly the case world-wide). Tony’s own teaching and research interests were in Cultural Studies, and he was a great admirer of Professor Stuart Hall, the founder of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. Tony was therefore one of the first and main academics to introduce childhood and children’s literature to cultural studies and vice versa. Tony was a wonderful and much-loved teacher, who was known always to ask the most penetrating and crucial questions in the most modest and unassuming ways. At every conference, workshop or presentation those of us who knew him well would wait for the ‘Tony question’ to raise the most important problem or issue. Tony was a great believer in and supporter of the true concept of ‘community’ and his generosity in including absolutely everyone who wished to engage in thinking and learning was remarkable. Tony taught across the world, including spending considerable time as a Visiting Lecturer at the Children’s Literature Research Institute in Osaka, Japan, for instance, and was also a regular teacher at Children’s Literature summer schools in the USA. In 1996 Tony also founded CIRCL: The Centre (now Graduate Centre) for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media, which runs the MA and PhD programmes in Children’s Literature in the department as well as fostering international research in these areas. Both the MA (now M(Res)) in Children’s Literature and CIRCL continue to flourish and I still regularly speak to international scholars who remember Tony and his teaching and research as a major influence and remember him personally with great warmth. Every year since Tony’s formal retirement in 2003 the department has commemorated his achievements with the Tony Watkins Annual Lecture. In 2018, the lecture is due to be given by the Belgian Critical Psychologist Dr Jan De Vos, on how children are construed as subjects in modernity, on February 27th 2018, at 6 pm (venue to be decided). It will be an especial occasion to remember Tony together at this University too.
Congratulations to Tara Healy (English Literature, Part 3) and Rebecca Ludbrook (English Language and Literature, Part 2) who are this year’s recipients of the Chancellor’s Awards for our Department. The Chancellor’s Awards are awarded each year to the highest achieving students across the university. Picking up an award for the second year in a row, Tara Healy (pictured) said that ‘the teaching quality in my department is, as I had hoped, absolutely fantastic, and I have loved every minute. Besides, Reading is a really fun place to live and the campus is beautiful.’ We are delighted to celebrate the achievements of these students, and we wish them continued success in their studies with us.
Having published in the past in newspapers about the changes being brought into English universities, and the problems some of these are causing for both staff and students, I was asked to write on some of these issues by the Think Tank ‘Civitas’. Think Tanks are organisations that perform research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Most policy institutes are non-profit organisations and Civitas is an independent Think Tank not affiliated with any political party, but engaging with topics of interest to them, of which education is one.
Like me, Civitas is concerned that the wider public does not really know about the many changes being introduced at universities at the moment, and about the consequences these may have. My piece is specifically about what happens when universities no longer see the people who attend them as students, but only as consumers: www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/thestudentasconsumer.pdf
A few years ago, I spent the university summer vacation in the Prison Archives at the Berkshire Record Office. I knew that scholars had not looked at the material closely, and I hoped to find traces of Oscar Wilde, who was so famously locked up in Reading Prison from 1895 to 1897. I found more than I had expected.
Most fascinating were the records of Henry Bushnell, a fellow convict who caught Wilde’s attention. Bushnell, a handsome, dark-eyed man, was a petty thief. He was so often in trouble that he was put in Reading Prison no fewer than 21 times between 1892 and 1911. Wilde mentions Bushnell in a letter to a friend, and he arranged for money to be sent to Bushnell on Bushnell’s release. I found a number of “mugshots” of Bushnell in the Archive, and these are the only known photographs of any of the working-class men in whom Wilde took an interest.
Mugshot of Henry Bushnell (Berkshire Record Office)
Beyond particular people, the Archives give a powerful sense of the social composition of the Prison population – the typical ages, educational backgrounds, and crimes. Sadly, the documents also confirm what Wilde had to say about the presence of children in prison. The records reveal, for instance, that 12-year-old Leonard Jones was sentenced to 14 days of hard labour for stealing a rabbit; 11-year-old Henry Fisher was sentenced to 10 days for stealing a paint and brush; George Edward Shaw, aged 14, was sentenced to 10 days of hard labour for stealing sweets.
The research was published in an academic journal, and it became the basis of an exhibition that the County Archivist, Mark Stevens, and I put on at the Record Office. Now, asked to give a talk at the Museum about Wilde in Reading for the “Tea and Talks at Two” series, I want to give a sense of Wilde’s experience in the Prison, but I want also to open out the picture to include the seldom-regarded fact that Wilde had friends in Reading, and visited the town, before his conviction. He and his wife were friends with Walter and Jean Palmer, prominent and wealthy citizens and a central part of the Huntley and Palmers biscuit dynasty.
There is still research to do on this aspect of Wilde in Reading, but in this blog I want to share a few documents that begin to tell the story. The first is the Huntley and Palmers visitor book, and the page signed by Wilde, along with the novelist George Meredith, the actor Harry Irving (son of the more famous Henry), and the renowned painter Louise Jopling. This distinguished party indicates the glamour of Walter and Jean Palmer, and especially of Jean Palmer, an active socialite who had great wealth of her own, derived from her colliery-owning father.
Huntley and Palmers Factory Visitor Book (Reading Museum)
The second document is a contemporary photograph of the Palmers’ Reading home, Westfield, just off Southcote Road. It is hard to imagine a greater shaming than that of moving from socialising in the ample grounds of this house to being shut up in the revolting confines of the Prison.
Westfield House (Reading Library Local History Department)
The third and final document is the memoir of Wilde’s son, Vyvyan Holland. He had a happy recollection of “being taken to the biscuit factory in Reading and eating biscuits straight out of the oven.”
It would all end tragically for Wilde, and for his wife and children. After the prison sentence, Constance Wilde turned to the Palmer circle for advice on what to do about her relation with Oscar. She was told, and reluctantly came to accept: