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Past events and conferences 2016

The Eccles Centre for American Studies regularly organises and supports conferences, seminars, lectures and other events on North American and transatlantic themes, often in partnership with other institutions and organisations.


Kate Bornstein in Conversation

When Tuesday 9 February, 18.30
Where British Library Terrace Restaurant

American author, playwright, activist and performing artist Kate Bornstein is an unique and revolutionary voice in the ever-growing discussions around trans visibility, LGBTQ rights, non-binary identities and 'gender outlaws'. In this live conversation, with journalist and transgender campaigner Paris Lees, Bornstein talked about her life, work and personal brand of politics.

In association with Gay's the Word, Queen Hearted and Amy Lamé


The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

When Friday 4 March, 18.30
Where British Library Conference Centre

What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens?

When Olivia Laing, 2014 Eccles British Writer in Residence, moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives – from Edward Hopper's Nighthawks to Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, from Henry Darger's hoarding to the depredations of the AIDS crisis – Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone.

Laing read from and discussed her major new book, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone with author Ali Smith. Ali Smith's latest novel is the Orange Prize-winning How to be both (Hamish Hamilton, 2014). Her latest collection of short stories is Public Library (Hamish Hamilton, 2015).

Olivia Laing is an acclaimed writer and critic and the former deputy literary editor of the Observer. She's the author of To the River, shortlisted for the 2011 Onddatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book Award, and The Trip to Echo Spring, shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Biography Award and the Gordon Burn Prize. She used her residency at the British Library in 2014 to research The Lonely City.

The talk was followed by a drinks reception and book signing.


Alexander Butterfield: The Last of the President's Men

When Thursday 10 March, 18.30
Where British Library Terrace Restaurant

An evening promising a first-hand account of the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon

Last year's Eccles Centre sell out event with Alexander Butterfield, former Deputy Assistant to the President, was wonderfully informative and entertaining. Since that visit journalist Bob Woodward's book The Last of the President’s Men, detailing Butterfield's role in the Watergate scandal has been published, reaching the New York Times bestseller list immediately on publication. Alexander Butterfield, who oversaw the installation of the now infamous White House taping system, was with us again, speaking this time about the creation of the book, how he and Woodward came together, how the storyline developed, the surprises in the book, and the post publication interest shown in his papers by the FBI and others. Butterfield's memories link his audience directly to Richard Nixon and his White House team, and he will again be in conversation with Nixon biographer Professor Iwan Morgan, Commonwealth Fund Professor of American History, University College London.

Presented in collaboration with University College London Institute of the Americas.


American Studies at A-Level: Masterclass Day

When Friday 11 March, 10.00
Where British Library Conference Centre

Study American topics hands-on with experts, at the forefront of their fields from the Universities of Sussex and London.

This study day was designed for teachers and year 12 students of History and English Literature who want to know more about American topics. All our speakers discussed relevant parts of the curriculum for both History and English across a number of exam boards. We delivered talks and host Q & A sessions on key A-level American subjects, supplying essential information, important cultural and historical context, and cutting-edge research.

Each talk directly addressed the needs of each discipline; our interdisciplinary approach also allowed students to join the dots and see American literature, culture and history as interdependent. Plus, students joined in a debate on America’s place in the world today through the eyes of one of its most outspoken public figures.

Organised by Dr Doug Haynes, Sussex Centre for American Studies (University of Sussex) in collaboration with Dr Cara Rodway and Prof Phil Davies, Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. With support from UCL History.


Henry James and Poetry: Conversations and Readings

When Thursday 14 April, 18.30
Where British Library Terrace Restaurant

Though we have no poetry composed by Henry James himself, the novelist referred to himself as a poet, and he knew poets well — Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Tennyson, Browning and Rupert Brooke among them. In this evening of conversations and readings, Professor Philip Horne drew on James’s letters and non-fiction to offer a picture of the writer’s relations to poetry and poets. Following this, poets Mark Ford and Peter Robinson talked about James’s significance for modern and contemporary poetry, reading from work by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, Delmore Schwarz, Stevie Smith, Weldon Kees, Donald Justice, Geoffrey Hill, Debora Greger, and William Logan — all bearing significant traces of the Master’s voice.

Mark Ford has published three collections of poetry and three volumes of critical essays, the most recent of which won the Pegasus Award. Other books include a biography of Raymond Roussel and a translation of his Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique. He is a Professor of English at University College London.

Philip Horne is the author of Henry James and Revision and editor of Henry James: A Life in Letters. Professor of English at University College London, and for many years a regular film reviewer, he has been president of the Henry James Society and is a general editor for the Cambridge Edition of his works.

Peter Robinson has published aphorisms, short stories, prose poems, memoirs and literary criticism, and has been awarded the Cheltenham Prize, the John Florio Prize, and two Poetry Book Society Recommendations for his poetry and translations. He is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading.


Henry James, Coleridge and The Coxon Fund

When Friday 15 April, 18.30-20.30
Where British Library Conference Centre

Richard Holmes explored Henry James’s subtle transformation of the “anomalous, tremendously suggestive” figure of the poet Coleridge in his famous 1894 story The Coxon Fund. James’s Notebooks give the novelist’s initial reactions to the Victorian biography of Coleridge, by Dykes Campbell, which inspired the story. Holmes reflected on these, and the effect James’s story had on Holmes’s own two volume prize-winning 1998 biography of Coleridge (which quotes James at length in the Preface), and raised the general question of the relationship between biographical and fictional narrative.

Richard Holmes’s other books include Shelley: The Pursuit (1975), Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985), and The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (2009), which won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books (UK), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction (USA). His most recent group biography is Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air which was one of Time magazine’s Top Ten Non Fiction titles for 2013. Holmes is a Fellow of the British Academy, an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and writes regularly for the New York Review of Books and Nature.

The talk was be followed by a wine reception.


Henry James: Shakespeare and Horror

When Saturday 16 April, 14.00-17.00
Where British Library Conference Centre

An afternoon of presentations by leading scholars reflecting on different aspects of Henry James and memory.

13.30-15.00 Professor Sarah Churchwell on ‘Mastering The Turn of the Screw’

15.30-17.00 Professor Adrian Poole on 'The Romance of Certain Old Texts: James and Shakespeare.'

Sarah Churchwell on ‘Mastering The Turn of the Screw

Professor Sarah Churchwell discussed the complexities of reading one of Henry James’ most famous and enigmatic stories, and in particular the centrality of unreliable memory to the story.

Sarah Churchwell is Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities and Professorial Fellow in American Literature at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is the author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby, and The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, and her literary journalism has appeared in the Guardian, New Statesman, TLS, New York Times Book Review, and the Spectator, among others. She comments regularly on arts, culture, and politics for UK television and radio, has judged many literary prizes, including the Bailey’s (Orange) Prize for Fiction and the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. She was the recipient of the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence award for 2015, during which time she undertook research on Henry James and the composition of ‘The Turn of the Screw’.

Adrian Poole on 'The Romance of Certain Old Texts: James and Shakespeare'

‘But who shall count the sources at which an intense young fancy … capriciously, absurdly drinks?’ asks Henry James. Shakespeare was one such source for him. Adrian Poole discussed an early tale, ‘The Romance of Certain Old Clothes’, in which two sisters bear the capriciously inappropriate names of young Shakespearean heroines. Biographical critics have seen in their rivalry a reflection of the author’s relations with his brother William. Poole will focus instead on the clothes and the fears and desires to which they give rise. The sisters’ antagonism provides the model for a debate that runs through James’s thinking about property, legacy and memory: on the one hand the dream of total control, on the other of wholesale dispersal.

If the violence with which this early tale ends is unusual for James, the threat of it is never absent, and this is a key to the way Shakespeare works in his imagination, that he is often associated with injury, especially in Othello and Hamlet. Poole will discuss some of the ways these two plays infiltrate James’s writing, at various levels of audibility. He asks why James admired two Shakespearean performers above all: Fanny Kemble and Tommaso Salvini. Finally Poole compared the legacies that Shakespeare and James himself appeared to leave, on the latter’s death, and the tercentenary of the former’s, in 1916.

Adrian Poole has written extensively on Henry James, and on Shakespeare. He is one of the General Editors of the Complete Fiction of Henry James (Cambridge University Press). He is a Professor of English and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.


Henry James and Memory Conference

When Thursday 14 - Saturday 16 April, 2016
Where British Library Conference Centre

Plenary Speakers:
Richard Holmes, OBE, FRSL, FBA, biographer
Sarah Churchwell, Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities, University of East Anglia

2016 marks the centenary of the death of Henry James (15 April 1843-28 February 1916), and will be a year in which James’s heritage will be celebrated, and will come under scrutiny, in a variety of settings and in different modes. This first conference of the centenary year took place in London, James’s adopted home and the location of much of his fiction, and was hosted by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, one of the world’s greatest libraries. Taking advantage of another centenary, it gave special attention to James’s richly complex relation to Shakespeare, as well as to other writers, especially poets. In addition to academic papers, it will also involve readings by creative writers - in poetry and prose - of works inspired by James and his example.

The conference started with a public event on Thursday evening 14 April and continued until Saturday afternoon 16 April 2016.

The academic organisers were Philip Horne (University College London), Gert Buelens (Ghent University) and Oliver Herford (University of Birmingham).


Dying for Shakespeare

When Monday 9 May, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Conference Centre

The 2016 Sulgrave Manor Watson Chair lecture told the tale of an 1849 performance of Macbeth in New York that provoked a full-blown riot.

As the army opened fire on thousands of demonstrators, as many as thirty people were killed. Behind this unlikely tragedy lay a comically bitter feud between England’s leading actor William Charles Macready and America’s first stage star Edwin Forrest. At the time, Britain still dominated American theatres, and the clashing thespians came to embody two sides in a fierce cultural war between nativists and Anglophiles over America’s very identity. With Bardolatry at its all-time zenith, that struggle revolved around the question of which nation 'owned' Shakespeare. Nigel Cliff, author of The Shakespeare Riots a finalist for the US National Award for Arts Writing and a Washington Post book of the year, takes us back to a time when theatres were raucous public spaces and Shakespeare, as popular in frontier saloons as aristocratic salons, played a leading role in forging a 'brave new world'.

Nigel Cliff is a historian, biographer, and critic who began his career as a theatre and film critic for The Times. He wrote The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama, which was a New York Times Notable Book and was shortlisted for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize and has translated and edited Marco Polo’s Travels for Penguin Classics. He has written widely for publications including The Economist and The New York Times and has lectured at Oxford University and the Ransom Centre, University of Texas at Austin.

Sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library in collaboration with Sulgrave Manor


The 2016 Douglas W. Bryant Lecture

When Monday 16 May, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Conference Centre

Populism and the Presidency

Journalist Martin Dickson examined the 2016 US Presidential campaign. It is shaping up to be one of the most unusual in recent history. Candidates from the fringes of the Republican and Democratic parties, back by grass-roots supporters, have been mounting strong challenges to politicians favoured by party establishments. The trend is especially marked among Republicans, who are at war with themselves. He examined the political, social and economic causes of the revolt, the policy implications for whoever gets to the White House, and whether there are lessons in America’s experience for the UK and continental Europe.

Martin Dickson has over 30 years’ experience of the media industry working in the UK, the US and elsewhere around the world as a reporter, commentator, editor and manager. He was formerly Deputy Editor (2005-12) and US Managing Editor (2012-14) of the Financial Times. He has been a close observer of US business and politics since the 1990s, when he spent five years heading the FT’s New York bureau during the George Bush Senior and Clinton presidencies. The winner of various awards for business journalism, he has been a member of the board of the British Library since April 2015.


Theodore Dreiser: from Transatlantic Censorship to Scholarly Editions

When Friday 20 May, 18.30-21.00
Where British Library Conference Centre

The American novelist Theodore Dreiser fought many battles against censorship, winning some and losing others.

After Harper & Bros. suddenly dropped The Titan, having already typeset and printed 10,000 copies. It was the British publisher John Lane who stepped in to bring out the book. Drawing on new research, Roark Mulligan traces why and how this happened, focusing especially on the influence of the American-born Emilie Grigsby, herself an author and a prominent London socialite friendly with King Edward VII, Rupert Brooke, and Henry James, whose early life is fictionalised in The Titan.

Jude Davies talked about how the historical censorship of Dreiser’s novels affects contemporary readers. Focusing on the critical editions of Sister Carrie and The Titan, he examined how successive editors have grappled with the questions of which text to use and how to present it to readers.

Jude Davies is Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Winchester, and General Editor of the Theodore Dreiser Edition. Roark Mulligan is Professor of English, Christopher Newport University, and is volume editor of The Financier (University of Illinois Press, 2011) and The Titan (University of Winchester Press, 2016).

In collaboration with Winchester University Press.


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