*DEADLINE TONIGHT* Constructing Experience: Narrative Innovations Across Time and Media

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Graduate English Students Association, University of Virginia
contact email: 

Constructing Experience: Narrative Innovations Across Time and Media

March 23-24, 2018

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

Keynote: Robyn Warhol (Ohio State University)

Master Class: Robyn Warhol, Alison Booth (UVA), Susan Fraiman (UVA)




Narrative is an essential means through which we engage with works of art. It is also a compelling framework that we use to make sense of our own lives. Human beings—and, certainly, graduate students in the humanities—are drawn to narratives, and we seem compelled to conceptualize ourselves narratively. As Frank Kermode puts it, we exhibit a “need in the moment of existence to belong, to be related to a beginning and an end.” Exemplary narrative forms have shifted throughout the history, from epic poetry to the long form serials of contemporary television. And while modern and contemporary works of art often parody and willfully subvert conventional narrative strategies, these experimentations seem to testify to our enduring need for narrative structure. The field of narratology is the study of the ways that narratives create meaning: it helps us to assess the shifting forms our narratives take and examines the way narrative strategies shape our perceptions. Contemporary narratology concerns itself not only with formalist considerations such as the execution and categorization of narrative techniques, but also with the ways in which narrative constructions both reveal and constitute our representations of reality. According to Robyn Warhol, “narratives are critical to constructing, maintaining, interpreting, exposing and dismantling the social systems, cultural practices, and individual lives that shape and are shaped by performative acts.”


The University of Virginia Department of English welcomes graduate student proposals that contemplate how narrative constructs and reflects our perceptions. We invite participants to explore narrative innovations from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, in texts ranging from medieval manuscripts to narrative poems to Netflix series. While we most often apply narratological theory and technique to prose fiction and film, studies like Clare Kinney’s Strategies of Poetic Narrative remind us of the rewards of a transmedial approach. We also welcome papers that embrace popular forms, from the serialized Victorian novel to “paperback” romance novels on e-readers or television series created for binge-watching. Investigations of narrative inversion, subversion, and interruption are encouraged, as are papers that explore metanarratological forms and techniques. We hope to have a wide-ranging conversation about both theoretical innovations in the field of narratology (exemplified in the work of our keynote speaker, Robyn Warhol) and narrative innovations and strategies within the texts we study and consume.

 Possible paper topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Narrativity as a cultural mode of expression
  • Narrative theory and race, gender, sexuality, nationality, disability, animal studies
  • Everyday narratives
  • Resisting the narrative; anti-narratives
  • Narratology across media: prose, poetry, film, television, YouTube, narrative nonfiction, Twitter
  • Feminist narratology: theory and application

Though we emphasize new approaches to and definitions of narrative, we’re also interested in continuities in the study of narrative. How do questions about narrative evolve and stay the same? How are our tools and methods adaptable?

  • Investigations of narrative voice (Who is speaking? To whom? In what circumstances?)
  • Time, plot, progression, space, setting, perspective, character, reception
  • Metanarration and metanarratives
  • Satire, mockumentaries, postmodern narratives, and the subversion of narrative expectations
  • Unreliable narrators (and implied authors)
  • Subversive counterplots, deferred conclusions, anti-narratives
  • Series, sequences, and sequels
  • Materiality, the politics of production, publication constraints/incentives and their narrative consequences
  • Books as physical objects: reading narrative through bibliographical clues


While we welcome projects in the standard 20-minute conference-paper format, we also invite proposals that modify or challenge this format in meaningful ways. Please submit abstracts of 200-400 words, along with relevant biographical information and institutional affiliation, to uvagradcon@gmail.com by January 31.


Robyn Warhol (keynote; master class) is a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and Chair of English at the Ohio State University. She and Susan S. Lanser co-edited Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions (2015), awarded Honorable Mention for the 2015 Perkins Prize for the most significant contribution to narrative studies. Warhol co-edited (with Diane Price Herndl) Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism (1991, 1997) and its successor, Feminisms Redux (2009). She wrote Having a Good Cry: Effeminate Feelings and Popular Forms (2003), a study of the ways sentimental, romantic and serial texts work to establish and reinforce gendered performance in fans of long-form TV series, Hollywood film and Victorian and contemporary serial fiction and Gendered Interventions: Narrative Discourse in the Victorian Novel (1989), an early work of feminist narratology which explicates her model of the “engaging narrator.” Recent articles address the construction of fictional space in Dickens’s Bleak House; “reality effects” in mockumentaries like NBC’s The Office and in so-called reality-TV shows such as The Real Housewives series; and on narrative innovations in Netflix series intended for binge watching. Warhol’s current project is a website, “Reading Like a Victorian,” a collaboration with Colleen Morrissey.

Susan Fraiman (master class) is Professor of English at the University of Virginia. Her most recent book, Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins (2017), takes unconventional and precarious homemakers as the basis for a new feminist theory of domesticity. Other works include Cool Men and the Second Sex (2003), Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (1993), and articles in Critical Inquiry, PMLA, and American Literature. She is editor of the Norton Critical Northanger Abbey and associate editor of New Literary History.

Alison Booth is Professor of English and Director of the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia. She is the creator of Collective Biographies of Women, a relational database of 1270 collective biographies of women and the more than 8000 persons and 13,000 short narratives collected in these books. Other works include Homes and Haunts: Touring Writers’ Shrines and Countries (2016), Collective Biographies of Women: An Annotated Bibliography (2007), How to Make It as a Woman (2004), and Greatness Engendered (1992).