Stoke Literary Festival

Catherine Burgass is presenting an event with Professor Ray Johnson on local poet Arthur Berry at the second Stoke Literary Festival (13th June).  For details go to:
The Festival event sold out early on, but tickets to other events may still be available and Ray and Catherine will also be talking about Berry at a forthcoming major exhibition: ‘Lowry and Berry – Observers of Urban Life’ at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (details to follow).
      Catherine and Ray have been working on a reprint of Berry’s book of poems, Dandelions, which should be published in time for the Festival.  Catherine was introduced to the work of Arthur Berry by one of our final-year students, Sarah Probyn – thank you Sarah!
      On Saturday 6th Catherine is also delivering a paper at the annual Arnold Bennett Conference – Bennett Abroad.  Taking liberties with the conference theme, the paper considers Bennett’s representation of the Potteries as a ‘foreign’ country, with reference to Freud’s theory of the uncanny.  For details go to:

PhD success

Our congratulations go to Emma Cleary who successfully defended her PhD thesis, ‘Jazz-Shaped Bodies: Mapping City Space, Time, and Sound in Black Transnational Literature’,  last Thursday. The examiners, Dr.s Mark Brown form Staffs and Brian Jarvis from Loughborough), praised the work for its conceptual sophistication, its wide-ranging approach to Black transnational literature (the US, Canada and the Caribbean; the novel, short story and spoken word poetry and rap), and its precision of expression and presentation. The project was supervised by Dr Lisa Mansell.

Congratulations Dr Cleary!

Emma (center) with the examiners (right) and her supervision team.

Emma (center) with the examiners (right) and her supervision team.


Public lecture: Food in Arnold Bennett’s Fiction

Catherine Burgass gave a talk for the Arnold Bennett Society to a capacity crowd at the Quaker Meeting House in Newcastle.  Unlike a Quaker meeting, which is based on shared silence, Catherine spoke for the best part of an hour.  She argued that, while one might expect descriptions of food as background detail in Bennett’s realist fiction, food is in fact integral to the construction of character and even plot.  Bacon, eggs, beef stew and chocolate (the latter explicitly associated with the Quaker tradition in comic novel, The Card) operate as symbolic sites of dramatic antagonism, crisis and resolution.  The audience was highly appreciative and ready with further examples from the life and works, including Bennett’s practice of getting Staffordshire oatcakes sent up to him in London by train from the Potteries.

2014 REF results

This morning the results of the ‘Research Excellence Framework’ for 2014 were released. The REF is a survey and evaluation of research production across all universities in the UK. The work done by us in English and Creative writing was entered as part of a broad, interdisciplinary package in ‘Unit of Assessment’ 36 (which included also philosophy and the social sciences). The results are a very welcome Christmas present!

To be sure, slightly disappointing was the ‘impact’ score, a measure of to what extent our work has changed public opinion or behaviours. This was a new measure this time around, and clearly we have more to learn about how to present our theoretical/ historical work in the best light.

Apart from that, though, there was great news. Not only was the vast majority of our work judged to be of international standing, but we were praised too for the environment we have crafted here to encourage further work, and bring on young researchers, including doctoral students. Well done, everyone!

PhD Success: Emma Cleary

Please join us in congratulating Emma Cleary for the submission of her PhD thesis entitled Jazz–Shaped Bodies: Mapping City Space, Time, and Sound in Black Transnational Literature.

Cleary’s thesis concerns “representations of the city in black transnational literature, with a focus on sonic schemas and mapping, cultural geography, posthumanist thought, and the discourse of diaspora. The research investigates the extent to which the urban landscape is figured as a panoptic structure in twentieth and twenty–‐ first century diasporic texts, and how the mimetic function of artistic performance challenges this structure”.

The work offers a comparative analysis of American, Canadian, and Caribbean landscapes and textscapes, the study of which “negotiates and transcends shifting national, cultural, and geographical borderlines and boundaries that seek to encode and enclose black subjectivity”.

This research offers important new readings of the works of James Baldwin, Earl Lovelace, Toni Morrison, and Wayde Compton.

Recent publication


Professor Douglas Burnham has just published The Nietzsche Dictionary, latest in the Bloomsbury series of philosophy dictionaries. A herculean task for the author, who has been described as ‘a subtle and incisive reader of Nietzsche’ providing the reader with ‘a comprehensive understanding of Nietzsche’s ideas’ – no mean feat.

The Nietzsche Dictionary

Out in time for Christmas!


A renascence for Arnold Bennett

Catherine Burgass has given another paper on Arnold Bennett, ‘The House That Bennett Built: Material Culture in Clayhanger’ in the swanky environs of Keele Hall (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’ conference, 18th October).  Catherine discussed the function of furniture (chairs, shelves and domestic plumbing) in Bennett’s romantic realism.

Catherine has been invited to contribute to a forthcoming volume of essays, edited by the distinguished Bennett scholar John Shapcott.  She is also giving a talk next February for the Arnold Bennett Society on food in Bennett’s fiction:

A beautiful few days in Madrid

I was in Madrid in September to examine a European PhD. The thesis, written in English by a Spanish student and examined in both Spanish and English, explored Paul Auster’s work through Blanchot’s concept of the space of literature. It was a fantastic piece of work and fully deserved the plaudits of the examining committee.

Madrid is a beautiful and relaxed city and while there we had to take the chance to visit the galleries and enjoy some fantastic meals out. We dined at Casa Labra just behind Puerta del Sol and, apparanetly, Lorca’s local. The tapas there is fantastic. I spent a few hours at the El Greco exhibition in the Prado, which traces the influence of El Greco on the Impressionists, surrealists and abstract expressionist of the 20th century. Every painting in this exhibition left me breathless and the overall experience is, quite frankly, overwhelming. The influence of paintings such as The Vision of St John on, for example, Matisse is arresting.

We also spent an amazing hour or more in the presence of Picasso’s Guernica at the Sofia. Just being in the same room as a piece of art as important as Guernica is a profound experience, and I recommend it to anyone who gets the chance.

We popped into the Thyssen as an after-thought and stayed until it closed. We focused mainly on the 20th/21st century and saw some inspiring pieces from the Impressionists, from Hopper, Dali and Bacon.

Sunday morning, before flying home, was spent in Parque del Retiro, where Madridians go to relax, busk, practice cheer-leading, boat, eat and generally be very, very cool.

Back to work for a rest after all that!

Dr. Burgass at the Stoke Literary Festival

Catherine Burgass presented her paper ‘Pits, Pots and Poets’ on regional writing and Stoke’s literary heritage to a sell-out crowd at the inaugural Stoke Literary Festival (21st June).  Organised by Emma Bridgewater and Tristram Hunt MP, other speakers included the ‘aga saga’ novelist Joanna Trollope and leading cultural commentator Melvyn Bragg.  (Catherine’s daughter Eleanor won a short-story prize in the associated ‘Too Write’ competition.)

c burgass stoke festival