Contemporary Women Writers and “the Classics”: call for journal article contributions

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Holly Ranger
contact email: 

Contributions to a speculative journal special issue are sought from those interested in taking a critical look at the resurgence of engagements with ancient literature and mythology in contemporary women’s writing.   

2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of Adrienne Rich’s foundational essay of women’s revisionary mythmaking, ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision' (1972). Yet the topic seems more relevant than ever: Tayari Jones’ modern Odyssey, An American Marriage, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019, succeeding Kamila Shamsie’s win in 2018 for Home Fire, a new version of Sophocles’ Antigone; and Alice Oswald, whose engagements with Homer and the Latin poet Ovid have spanned her career, has been elected Oxford Professor of Poetry. It may be one mark of success for feminism that the second-wave revisionary mythmaking of avant-garde poets such as Rich can now be found topping bestseller lists, from Madeleine Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, to Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships. But how has the institutionalisation of women’s revisionary mythmaking negated its power of critique? Do these texts share more in common with a petit bourgeois nostalgia than a 're-vision' that is historically and politically aware? And what does it mean to engage with ancient texts in a time of neo-fascism, when ancient imagery and texts are deployed by the far-right, and when the academic discipline of Classics ‘continues to be enmeshed in white supremacy and misogyny’ (Zuckerberg, 2019: https://eidolon.pub/burn-it-all-down-82f5edb16e)?  

A new wave of texts published in the late 2010s has also marked a significant shift in feminist revisionary approaches to antiquity that remains to be theorised. Daisy Johnson’s oneiric novel Everything Under (2018), for example, explicitly claims a source in Sophocles’ Oedipus, yet eludes the comparatist’s gaze; while the collaborative Threads (2018) by Sandeep Parmar, Bhanu Kapil, and Nisha Ramayya significantly troubles a tradition of white revisionist mythmaking which has centred Homer’s Penelope as an archetype of female creativity. In these new texts the presence of allusions to antiquity is strained and hallucinatory, even malign, and the relationship to a source text far from clear. So how does intertextuality and reception work in the texts of women writers who have moved away from ‘reclamation’?  

Despite the surge in contemporary women writers turning to ancient texts, such works are relatively neglected in comparison to the author’s wider oeuvre (for example, Ali Smith’s Girl meets boy has attracted far less critical attention than Hotel World or There but for the). Issues of pedagogical privilege are at play here – in the UK, Greek and Latin language and literature remains predominantly the preserve of private schools. But to what extent is this critical reticence symptomatic of critical anxieties around male influences on contemporary women’s writing? Or is it symptomatic of anxieties around the cannibalising and hierarchising methodologies of ‘world literature’ and ‘comparative literature’? Yet leaving analyses of contemporary women's writing to classical scholars alone exposes novels such as Home Fire to the risk of being instrumentalised to serve a positivist narrative about the enduring relevance of Greco-Roman mythology to our contemporary world - with the concomitant neglect of women writers’ revisioning of texts from beyond the ancient Mediterranean.  

The editor therefore seeks contributions which pay attention to the complexity of contemporary women writers’ self-aware and ambivalent invocation of ‘the classical’. Contributions may treat texts in any genre by any woman/ woman-identifying writer, writing in any language, and engaging with any global ancient texts and cultures. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:  

  • Theorising feminist re-vision in the 21st century 
  • ‘Classical reception’ in a time of neo-fascism 
  • Tayari Jones, An American Marriage  
  • Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire  
  • Daisy Johnson, Everything Under  
  • Han Kang, Leçons de grec  
  • Sandeep Parmar, Bhanu Kapil, and Nisha Ramayya, Threads  
  • UK literary prize culture  
  • The dynamic between creative practice and feminist theory  
  • Self-reflexive criticism (the complicity or resistance of the feminist literary critic)  
  • Dislike as a critical and affective standpoint  
  • Canonicity and canonisation  
  • Pedagogical contexts and privilege, and cultural conservatism  
  • Feminist philology  
  • Feminist translation  
  • Feminist materialism  
  • Subjectivity and embodiment  
  • Affect/ affective criticism  
  • Comparativism  
  • Embodiment, subjectivity, voice  
  • Identity and authorship  
  • Author/practitioner interviews 

Abstracts should be <500 words.  

To submit an abstract, or to discuss your ideas and find out more about this project prior to submission, please contact the editor: holly.ranger@sas.ac.uk / @themauvedesert