Art & Action: A Webinar Series on Literary Authorship, Politics, and Celebrity Culture

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Panel Discussion: Literary Celebrity, Activism, and the ‘Industry’

4 September 2020, 2pm

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How do authors’ political interventions relate to the market activism of ‘industry stakeholders’? To what extent do literary work and extra-literary activism condition each other? In what ways do the personae of creative writer, critic, and activist coexist, nurture, or interfere with each other? How has the literary world been transformed by both celebrity culture and the ‘digital turn’? What is the social and cultural responsibility of the author in the 21st century, and how can they respond to the current global challenges we are all facing? To address these questions, this panel brings together the perspectives of the writer, translator, literary editor, critic, scholar, and literary prize judge, featuring contributions by Alice Guthrie, Daniel Medin, Charlotte Ryland, Alan Taylor, and Elleke Boehmer, who will chair the discussion.

Alice Guthrie is an independent translator, editor, and curator specialising in contemporary Arabic writing. Widely published since 2008, her work has often focused on subaltern voices, ’activist’ art and queerness / queering (winning her the Jules Chametzky Translation Prize 2019). Completed this week, her translation of the persecuted cult Moroccan gender activist Malika Moustadraf’s ‘Blood Feast’ is due out from Feminist Press in spring 2021. As a commissioning editor she is currently compiling the first ever anthology of queer Arabic writing, set to appear in parallel Arabic and English editions in 2022. Her online queer Arab chatshow is currently running on Arts Canteen, and in 2020 she has curated queer Arab content for Edinburgh International Book Fair and Outburst International Queer Arts Festival. She programmes the literary strand of London’s biennale Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture, and consults for various charities including the Stephen Spender Trust. She teaches undergraduates and postgraduates in the Department of Translation Studies and the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, both at Exeter University. 

Daniel Medin is an editor and a professor at the American University of Paris (AUP), where he teaches contemporary world literature and editorial practice. His research is principally concerned with modern fiction from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, with an emphasis on the work and global reception of Franz Kafka. He is Associate Director of AUP’s Center for Writers and Translators, and one of the editors of its Cahiers Series. He is also co-editor of Music & Literature magazine and advises The White Review, Edit (Germany), and other journals on contemporary international fiction. He has judged leading translation prizes in the USA (Best Translated Book Award, 2014-2015) and the UK (Man Booker International Prize, 2016), and is now on the jury of their German equivalent (HKW Internationaler Literaturpreis, 2018-2020).

Charlotte Ryland is Director of the Stephen Spender Trust and founding Director of the Queen's College Translation Exchange, an initiative based at the University of Oxford. Through both organisations she aims to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in literary translation, to promote language-learning, and to bring creative translation activities into UK schools. She also works as a Lecturer in German at Queen’s College, Oxford, as a literary project manager, and translator. Until 2019, she ran New Books in German, an international project promoting literature in German and facilitating translations into English.

Alan Taylor has been editor and board member of the Scottish Review of Books since 2004. He was deputy and managing editor at The Scotsman, and Associate Editor of the Sunday Herald. A former Booker judge, he has edited several acclaimed anthologies, including The Assassin’s Cloak, The Country Diaries (Canongate), and Glasgow: The Autobiography (Birlinn). His most recent book is Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark (Polygon, 2017), and he is the editor of the centenary editions of the Collected Novels of Muriel Spark (Polygon).

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She is the author and editor of over twenty books, including Colonial and Postcolonial Literature (1995, 2005), Empire, the National and the Postcolonial: Resistance in Interaction (2002), Stories of Women (2005), Indian Arrivals 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire (2015), Postcolonial Poetics: 21st-Century Critical Readings (2018), and a widely translated biography of Nelson Mandela (2008). She is the award-winning author of five novels, including Bloodlines (2000), Nile Baby (2008), and The Shouting in the Dark (2015), and two collections of short stories, most recently To the Volcano, and Other Stories (2019). Boehmer is the Director of the Oxford Centre for Life Writing and principal investigator of Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds.


This series of webinars is convened by Sandra Mayer (University of Vienna / Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, and Ruth Scobie (Mansfield College, Oxford,, and is supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) in collaboration with The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW), Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, and The Stephen Spender Trust.

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