English Literature students lead cast, in Shakespeare’s return to Reading Abbey Ruins. Much Ado About Nothing, 11th-21st July

Reading Abbey Ruins have re-opened to the public, after a three year, £3.15m restoration project, meaning that the popular Open Air Shakespeare by Progress Theatre (which moved to the beautiful Caversham Court Gardens in 2012) has now returned to the Abbey Ruins with this year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, featuring two current English Literature students: Kate Shaw (PhD candidate) as Beatrice and Taylor Rupp (MA English Literature) as Hero.

This production of Much Ado moves the action from Italy to Leonato’s English country house, at the end of the World War II. Both Kate and Taylor have studied Much Ado over the course of their academic careers and jumped at the chance to bring these two iconic characters to life. “It is a truly exciting prospect to play Beatrice and doing so in the Abbey Ruins is absolutely the icing on the cake” says Shaw. “Beatrice is such a beloved character, and one of Shakespeare’s “strong women” that there is definitely a feeling of responsibility when playing her. But I thought about who she would be in 1945, and having previously studied her strengths and weaknesses, I hope to have found a blend between her great wit and her vulnerabilities. One of her soft spots is of course Hero, and it’s been a real treat to work with Taylor to create a meaningful and believable relationship between the two cousins.”

Rupp says, “I am ecstatic to be able to bring Hero to life. She doesn’t speak much throughout the play, so it has been very interesting to use other aspects to give her the character she deserves. The relationships she has with her family is one of my favourite parts of the show. That and being able to perform in the Abbey Ruins. It’s so exciting to be able to perform at such a beautiful and historical site.”

More information about Much Ado About Nothing and Progress’ Open Air Productions can be found here: http://progresstheatre.co.uk/reading-open-air

The production runs from Wednesday 11th – Saturday 21st July (no performance Sunday 15th), at 7:45pm each night. Tickets can be bought directly from Ticketsource here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/248757

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Second Sight: The Margaret Atwood Learning Journals

Second Sight: The Margaret Atwood Learning Journals is published by the UoR this week and it celebrates the quality of our students’ work on the final year ‘Margaret Atwood’ module. Co-edited with a Part 3 DEL student, the book presents a collection of learning journal entries and artworks and showcases our students’ critical skill and writing agility.

The book contains several different forms of reflection on Atwood’s novels and includes parodies, mock interviews, letters, responses to critical readings, and exercises in creative writing where students have, for example, presented a perspective not given within the text. Also presented are poems and artworks which students have included within their weekly journal entries. This use of a wide array of different forms has allowed students to combine their creative and critical skills and to submit often witty, critically astute, and highly imaginative work. From my point of view, as a critic of Atwood, the journal entries opened up new spaces for analysis and they also enabled me to appreciate fully the first-rate engagement of our students in the work they undertake for their modules.

I decided to publish the students’ writing because I wanted to retain a material record of the students’ hard work and skill. I sought funding from our Teaching and Learning Deans, who supported the project from the beginning, and I connected with the ‘Real Jobs’ scheme in the Department of Typography where students gain professional experience by managing funded publishing commissions for University staff and external clients. This led me to June Lin, a gifted student typographer, and I asked Bethany Barnett-Sanders, a member of the ‘Margaret Atwood’ groups, to help me edit the book. Throughout the Summer Term, June, Bethany and I met and planned, designed and edited, and the result is a book of which we are proud. With the sole exception of the Introduction, every element of it, from the cover image to the design to the contents, is the work of our students.

A book launch is being held on 5th July and all students contributing to the book have been invited to the party along with their families: Professor Emerita Coral Ann Howells, the patron saint of Atwood studies and the originator of the ‘Margaret Atwood’ module at Reading, will also be at the party, and the book is being sent to several leading Atwood scholars as well as to Margaret Atwood herself. The book will also demonstrate ‘good practice’ journal-writing to next year’s students on the ‘Margaret Atwood’ module and there should be a few spare copies available if other students (or colleagues) would like to buy a copy.

Producing this book with such talented students has been a great pleasure and to have the book available to our students on the day of their graduation provides a fitting conclusion to a busy but extremely rewarding academic year.

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Congratulations to our new lecturer in creative writing, Kate Clanchy, who has received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours

Kate Clanchy received the honour for services to literature in schools, in recognition of her work as a Writer in Residence at Oxford Spires Academy.

Over the last nine years, she has nurtured creative talent at the school, whose pupils come from all over the world and where more than 30 languages are spoken. As a result, the school has been hugely successful in poetry competitions, with pupils winning multiple national prizes.

The pupils in Kate’s ‘Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ poetry group, many of whom arrived in the UK as refugees, have also created a radio programme, which was nominated for the Poetry Society’s Ted Hughes Award. Kate has shared their poetry with thousands on Twitter.

The best of the pupils’ poetry is due to be published in a new anthology, England: Poems from a School, on 14 June. The poems create a portrayal of England as it is experienced by young migrants, and features moving personal stories from the pupils.

Kate told the University of Reading: “I was very surprised to be awarded an MBE, but also very pleased. MBEs are for service, and I like to think this one honours my work in schools and so the importance of literature in schools.”

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Neil Cocks is running barefoot.

This would make an excellent title for an academic novel, but in this case we mean it literally.

Neil Cocks is running the Oxfordshire Three Spires Challenge half-marathon in his bare feet to raise money for the Ollie Young foundation, a charity that we feel a strong connection to because of  Jean Call’s work.

If you would like to support Neil in his fundraising, you can donate through his Justgiving page.

(I’m sure donations of blister cream and plasters will be welcome too.)

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Dr. John Scholar, our new colleague, introduces himself.

I’m delighted to be joining the Department of English Literature as a Lecturer, my first permanent academic job. I’m only coming 25 miles down the road as I’ve recently been at Oxford University, as PhD student, postdoc, and then lecturer. I’ve also studied in London University (at Birkbeck College and the LSE). My last permanent job was in my twenties when I spent three years working as an economist in The Treasury, under Gordon Brown. My first week in this job has been political in a different way: I was on strike before setting foot in my new office, which was a strange way to start, but since then I’ve really enjoyed meeting new colleagues and students, and finding my way around this green campus.  

My research bridges Victorian and modern literature, looking at how intellectual history can help us understand the changing form of the novel. I am currently finishing my first book Henry James and the Art of the Impression which places fiction and non-fiction of Henry James in dialogue with an interdisciplinary history of the ‘impression’, drawing in philosophy, psychology, the visual arts and modern critical theory. My interest in the relationship between literature and philosophy has also prompted work exploring how continental philosophy (Heidegger, Bergson) can historicize modernist form in James Joyce’s Ulysses, especially its representation of the material world and the ‘stream of consciousness’. I am a convenor of the Oxford Phenomenology Network, which promotes interdisciplinary discussions relating to phenomenological theory and practice. I am also interested more broadly in the fin-de-siècle, modernism, and narrative theory.  

I’m really looking forward to teaching a variety of modules: with Year 1, ‘Poetry in English’ and ‘Genre and Context’, with Year 2, ‘Restoration to Revolution: 1660-1789’, and, with Year 3, ‘Decadence and Degeneration: Literature of the 1880s and 1890s’. I convene a Year 3 module called ‘Modern “isms”: From Realism to Modernism’. And I am supervising Year 3 dissertations on science fiction, slavery literature in South Africa, contemporary black British female subjectivities, Orwell, and Woolf. 

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Dr Anna Maerker (KCL), Interpreting the preserved body: Making intelligible specimens in nineteenth-century anatomy


The representation of the body in three dimensions is crucial for artistic practice as well as for medical education, and anatomists and artists have long resorted to a wide range of practices and materials to represent the visual and haptic qualities of flesh. But how can we keep flesh looking (and feeling) like itself? How should we preserve flesh for the purposes of medical education? The paper will investigate the practices and publications of nineteenth-century anatomists such as Frederick and Robert Knox to highlight practical and conceptual issues of anatomical preservation. Medical researchers generally agreed on the central role of anatomical and pathological collections for teaching and research. However, preservation techniques posed significant challenges: chemicals caused discolouration, and they distorted the shapes and textures of body parts; dry specimens attracted dust and pests. How could the risk of misinterpretation of such faulty representations be minimised? The paper will highlight how anatomists responded to problems of intelligibility with a range of responses, from technological fixes to user education.

Dr Maerker’s talk will be giving at 5pm on 10th May, in Edith Morley G44.

All welcome

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Reminder: Tony Watkins Annual lecture

This annual lecture commemorating the academic work of Tony Watkins will take place on Thursday May 3rd at 6 pm in Edith Morley (formerly HUMSS Building) room  44.

The eminent critical psychologist Dr Jan De Vos will speak on ‘Digitalizing childhood: leading the child via its synapses to a psychologized virtuality’

Dr De Vos explains that the lecture will consider the following:

There is a substantial overlap between the discourses and the practices of neuro-education (attempting to ground education/parenting in neuroscience) and the digitalisation of education (schooling or parenting). An illustrative example is IBM’s “learning analytics” and its, mainly, metaphoric, recourse to neuro-terms, speaking of “neuromorphic hardware”, “brain-inspired algorithms”, “neurosynaptic chip”. One can furthermore observe that “learning platforms” most centrally address psycho-social issues such as empathy and social skills: this is at play on the discernible and visible level (of for example the virtual architecture of the platform) but also on the more hidden level of the algorithms and codes that give form to and direct the interactions. Education and schooling, seemingly, are psychologized via digitalization. Also in the field of the so-called “parenting apps” one can discern how digitalization connects to the (neuro)psychological: the app “Vroom”, for example, advertises with the claim “Vroom turns shared moments into brain building moments”. Or, digital technology turns human interactions into an issue of brain-regions and brain chemistry: the digital app neurologizes childhood and parenting.

In this lecture I will explore how the child (and its parents and educators), is led to the digital via a rationale which understands childhood from the (psycho)neurological paradigm. Digitalization, thus, as the heir of (neuro)psychologization?

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Debate and doughnuts: Why are some wages more equal than others?

No matter your political agenda, staff and students alike are
invited to a two-hour drop-in session to discuss the gender pay
gap and issues of equal pay.

Find out what your university has to say on:
Tuesday 8th May at 12-2 p.m. in Miller G05.
Doughnuts and drinks included!
Please contact Dr Maddi Davies for more information.

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Our current M(Res) in Children’s Literature student Kristy Keller has won second prize in the category ‘First Pages’ at the Swedish ‘Stockholm Writer’s Festival’ with her children’s detective novel Harper Holloway and the Disappearance of Arabella Sent   http://stockholmwritersfestival.com/im-thrilled-chosen/ Many congratulations, Kristy!

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Our alumna, Bea Fitzgerald, on moving from a degree in English literature to a career in publishing

Are you wondering which careers might follow a degree in English literature? Bea Fitzgerald graduated from the University of Reading with a first-class degree in English literature in 2017, and has recently embarked on a career in publishing. Here, she talks here about her time at Reading and on how she chose her career path…

What’s your current role, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I’m a Marketing Assistant at the publishing company, Scholastic. I work on lots of different business areas but mainly education and that includes the thing we’re best known for – Scholastic Book Fairs. My favourite part is probably book fair social media because I get to see schools sharing pictures and stories of their Book Fairs and aside from being really cute, I love seeing kids that would never get taken to a book shop get books from their school. The constant free books floating around the office are also a big plus.

In what ways did your degree in English help to prepare you for the career you have now?
I loved my English degree and if I could do it again (though preferably without the assessment) I definitely would. The best part was going to seminars and study groups and just talking about books. Most of my best essay ideas came from just talking to my course friends about books and my favourite parts of them. In a nutshell, marketing in publishing is getting paid to talk about books – just in various forms like social media, emails, posters, events and hundred of other ways. My degree encouraged to embrace my passion for books and let me ramble on excitedly about the topics that interested me which was the perfect lead into my job. Between second and third year I got an internship at Mills & Boon – a placement I got because I’d worked on the archives down at the London Road campus.

What advice would you give someone thinking about studying English at university?
I was the first in my family to go to uni and my parents were really not keen on me doing English. Law had a direct career path in a way English didn’t but doing any subject you love keeps your options open. I was always going to study law at uni until my school started talking us through personal statements and I found myself planning it for English. All their “talk about what you love!” just didn’t apply to law the same way. If you have a subject, like English, that excites you then go for it – you’ll never get as a high a grade in something you aren’t passionate about and as stressful as uni sometimes was I never lost interest in my subject. I even still enjoy the books I studied for my dissertation! Study the subject you enjoy and figure the rest out later – especially with all the help available at the uni.

Do you have any tips on how to get into a career in publishing?
Publishing is one of the most competitive industries out there. It can be quite demoralising job hunting in it because each entry level role has so many applicants. The good thing is that the industry is awakening to this problem and encouraging applicants from different backgrounds with transferable skills. My back up plan was always to get any marketing job and then to move across. It’s hard to get in but once you are it is so, so worth it. It’s also full of some of the nicest people I’ve ever met! I’d recommend joining the Society of Young Publishers if you want to get into publishing and going to some of the events (everything from lectures to pub quizzes). The website is https://thesyp.org.uk/.

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