RIP E L Doctorow

A great figure of American letters, EL Doctorow, has died at the age of 83. He achieved the distinction, as a writer, of being both commercially successful and receiving a great deal of scholarly attention. This is because he was both a chronicler of American history – his books explored the the Jazz Age, the rise of the Mafia, the Industrial Revolution – and an explorer of literary form. My favourite, and the one I teach, is his 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel. Here, with a thin veil of fictionalisation, he explores the execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953 for passing nuclear secrets to the USSR, and the consequences for their children in a different radical age at the end of the 60s. The book is at once an account of personal trauma and loss, a meditation on America’s post-War radical movements, and an exploration of the limits of literary form and the earlier certainties of narrative perspective and temporal organisation. The book incorporates polyphonic narratives of the persecution of both the Jews and radical thinkers over time – characteristics that both the Rosenbergs and Doctorow himself shared. The Book of Daniel is my favourite book and every time I return to it I discover something new to say about it.

President Obama tweeted this:

“E.L. Doctorow was one of America’s greatest novelists. His books taught me much, and he will be missed.

You can read the Guardian obituary here and follow links to more interesting articles and interviews.

The Class of 2015

The English and Creative Writing staff at Staffs are delighted to congratulate the graduating class of 2015.

It was a glorious day at Trentham Gardens for our students to spend their last day as Staffs students (though we are looking forward to welcoming some back for Masters study). Lou Whotton and Atia Shafique scooped prizes, though so many students did so well and have been great over the last three years that it was almost impossible to choose.

The Stoke Sentinel were there, and you can see their pictures here

We managed to round up most of the students for our own pic, and here we all are before the ceremony.


Our congratulations, once again, to all our students who graduated this year. We are very proud of you all and have really enjoyed teaching you and getting to know you over the last three years. Please stay in touch and let us know how you are getting on.

Mark, Martin, Mel, Catherine, Barry, Lisa, Paul and Douglas.

The RSC’s ‘Death of a Salesman’

I was in that London at the weekend to see the RSC’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (which we study in Make it New: American writing 1900-1950). During the day we took in the London Eye and the new cable car across the Thames at Greenwich. We separated these panoptical pursuits with lunch at the Tate and  some contemplative time with Rothko’s magnificent explorations of colour, shade and shape.

Continue reading