Grace Kelly: An Understudied Irish-American Icon

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Mary Burke, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
contact email: 

CFP for a panel on Grace Kelly at NeMLA, Philadelphia, March 11-14, 2021. (Virtual participation possible.)

Kelly (1928-82) was a successful Catholic Irish-American film actor who received the title of Princess Grace of Monaco upon her marriage in 1956, a decade in which, even though her ethnic community was increasingly assimilated in America, it remained excluded from certain very exclusive roles. Thus, the impact of Kelly’s wedding cannot be underestimated: a documentary on the nuptials filmed by her studio, MGM, was watched by an estimated 30 million people, making it one of the largest international media events of that decade. As early as 1957, a communications theorist analyzed the persona created for Kelly by MGM, but in the case of the scholarship of Irish America, there is a startling absence of work on a cultured woman whose interest in her heritage led her widower to endow an Irish literature library in her honor. Irish-American Studies has traditionally been preoccupied with narratives of Irish suffering or with prominent and powerful men, which does not sit comfortably with the story of an exceedingly photogenic woman from a privileged background who rose into the ranks of both major Hollywood stardom and minor European royalty. Nevertheless, this veneer of wealth and glamour is the end-point of a multi-generation family story that follows the broad contours of post-famine Irish immigrant experience: Kelly was the direct descendant of John Henry Kelly, who was born in poverty in the west of Ireland in 1847, two years into a famine that would profoundly alter Irish emigration patterns to the United States.

This panel seeks submissions for 20-minute papers addressing undertheorized aspects of Kelly's persona, career, life, ethnicity, legacy, or contexts. All theoretical and Area Studies approaches are welcome, especially those with an Irish-American / Irish Studies focus or using a Cultural, Media, Gender, or Celebrity Studies lens. Please submit a 200-300 word abstract through NeMLA portal (https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/Login) by September 30.

Mary M. Burke, University of Connecticut, Storrs, is a Professor of English and Director, Irish Literature Concentration.

Mary Burke, “Grace Kelly, Philadelphia, and the Politics of Irish Lace.”American Journal of Irish Studies 19 (2019): 31-46.