Kate Willman is a Visiting Fellow at the IMLR during the academic year 2016/17. Here, she gives a personal insight into being awarded a Visiting Fellowship and the benefits gained, both to her research and to the IMLR.
After being awarded my PhD in Italian Studies at the University of Warwick about a year ago, I was looking for an academic home while I prepared my doctoral thesis for publication and embarked on a new research project, so the fellowship at the Institute of Modern Languages Research was the perfect fit. My forthcoming book based on my doctoral research addresses the recent literary phenomenon known as the New Italian Epic, a label used to describe a corpus of hybrid texts mainly published after the year 2000 in Italy, which merge genres, styles and media, and whose writers aim to effect change in society by depicting and re-assessing the past and present. My new comparative project draws on the New Italian Epic texts that employ what has been called autofiction, blurring the boundaries between the author’s real-life experiences and fictional elements, but I am now interested in looking beyond Italy to examine the explosion in popularity of this mode of life-writing in the 21st century, with a focus on work in Italian, French and English. My fellowship at the Institute is attached to the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing, as I’m particularly interested in how women have employed autofiction in recent years. Like many research projects, this interest sprang from a sense of annoyance, in this case after reading a blogpost on The Guardian website that asked ‘Is auto-fiction strictly a boy’s game?’, in which the author observed that, despite ‘a surge in popularity of late’, those authors who insert a character bearing their name into a work tend to be men. On the contrary, a huge number of women writers have employed autofiction in innovative and experimental ways to explore subjectivity and selfhood.
I don’t think I realised just how useful the fellowship at the Institute would be, not only from the point of view of the shared office space and access to Senate House Library, but also in terms of having a range of experts on hand for friendly and practical advice and discussions about research. Being a fellow at the Institute means coming into contact with researchers from across the different institutes housed at the School of Advanced Study and from beyond, as well as having access to a wide variety of academic and public engagement events. The Institute is truly interdisciplinary, so it’s a great place to look beyond the confines of a national culture or to find out about a new discipline to incorporate into your research. Since starting here in September, I’ve not only attended a number of diverse events, but I’ve also made friends and contacts with whom I am already planning future collaborations.
Part of the fellowship is the opportunity to organise an event, but I’m actually organising two, as fellows can book a room and invite speakers on a subject that interests them. My event as part of my fellowship is a half-day workshop on Friday 10 March 2017 entitled ‘Women’s Self-Representation in the Digital Age’, when the other speakers and I will be looking at autofiction not only in terms of books, but also across platforms, from online videos to social media to images, exploring how the advent of the internet and the growth of celebrity culture has influenced representations of the self in the 21st century. On Tuesday 14 February 2017, I’m organising an event entitled ‘What Is A Modern Author? Evolutions in Authorship from the 19th Century to the Present’, when there will be five speakers offering snapshots from different points in the modern period that examine the impact of developments in the book market on how writers have portrayed themselves in their texts, negotiated their role as public figures and been perceived by the reading public. Preparing these workshops has given me more experience of organising events and brought me into contact with researchers working on comparable topics, as well as helping me to take a significant step forward with my new postdoctoral research project.
Kate Willman, IMLR Visiting Fellow, 2016/17
The next call for applications for Visiting Fellowships is now open! Full details of application procedures are available online. The deadline for applications is 31 March 2017, for the fellowship to be taken up between September 2017 and June 2018.