Academic Novels: Beyond the Canon? (MLA 2015 Special Session, Vancouver, BC)

full name / name of organization: 
Ian Butcher, Duquesne University
contact email: 

What constitutes the canon of academic novels? Discussion of the genre has tended to focus on a limited number of novels. On the British side, C. P. Snow's The Masters, Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, David Lodge's campus trilogy (Changing Places, Small World, Nice Work), and A. S. Byatt's Possession dominate. For American academe, a similarly small number have dominion over the field: Mary McCarthy's The Groves of Academe, Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution, Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin, Bernard Malamud's A New Life, Jane Smiley's Moo, Richard Russo's Straight Man, and Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. If these novels are taken to constitute the academic novel canon, as it were, what picture of academe emerges from them?

Given that John E. Kramer's The American College Novel: An Annotated Bibliography offers annotations for over 600 novels about undergraduate and faculty life, what's missing from this picture because of this narrow focus? If academic novels "may serve as a memory of policies and practices which official accounts have overlooked" (Thelin and Townsend 202), and provide "a spiritual, political, and psychological guide to the profession" (Showalter 118), how might the experiences of underrepresented groups within academe be better understood by looking to academic novels beyond this canon?

Please send a 300 word abstract and CV to Ian Butcher ( by March 1, 2014.