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Literary Modernism

My research interests combine three overlapping areas: global modernisms, empire and the postcolonial (particularly in relation to Southern African literature); animals and the environment in world literature; and political radicalism in creative communities.


Most of my work to date has focused on these issues in relation to the writings of Olive Schreiner. I have published two articles on Schreiner's literature in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing (2014, 2017) and was interviewed about a new edition of Schreiner's novel, From Man to Man, for the Journal of Commonwealth Literature (2021). My monograph, Olive Schreiner and African Modernism: Allegory, Empire and Postcolonial Writing, came out with Routledge in 2018 (and in paperback in 2019). This was described by Neil Lazarus as 'an exceptionally important and superbly lucid book [...] significant for the decisiveness and authority of its challenge to the still-dominant critical understanding that modernism is ultimately and fundamentally ‘European’ in its origins'.

Other publications include an article on animals and animal language in graphic novels about the Rwandan genocide (2016); and book chapters on island ecologies and extinction in the early fiction of H.G. Wells (2019), and representations of lions in the novels of Solomon Plaatje and Thomas Mokopu Mofolo (2020). In 2016 I co-edited (with Veronica Barnsley and Matthew Whittle) a special issue of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature entitled 'Postcolonial Environments: Animals, Ecologies, Localities'. I am collaborating with Matthew Whittle again to co-author a book entitled Global Literature and the Environment: Twenty-First Century Perspectives (forthcoming with Routledge, 2022).

I am an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker (2022), and feature in BBC Radio 3 programmes on the New Generation Thinkers, Modernism Around the World, and South African Writing.

As part of this AHRC-funded project, I have published articles on decolonising the English Literature A-Level, and Virginia Woolf reading Olive Schreiner, and I am working on a new book manuscript tentatively titled South African Bloomsbury. This will explore the co-constitutive nature of British and South African modernisms that emerged through personal and textual networks associated with the Bloomsbury area of London. I am also working on a co-edited essay collection with Andrew van der Vlies, which has the working title Olive Schreiner: Writing Networks and Global Contexts, to which I also contribute a chapter. 

Afrikaans, postcolonial studies, South Africa

Professor Andrew van der Vlies (Co-Investigator)

University of Adelaide, Australia

My research interests cover contemporary world literatures in English, literature and globalization, and the novel; South African writing (in English and Afrikaans), performance, film, cultural studies, and visual art; postcolonial print cultures, book history, translation, and archives; queer theory, especially queer postcolonial studies; affect studies; hope, disappointment, boredom, nostalgia.

My first book, South African Textual Cultures (Manchester University Press, 2007), considered the construction of the idea of an anglophone ‘South African’ literature through a series of case studies of the publication and reception histories of authors from Olive Schreiner, Alan Paton, and Alex La Guma, to J.M. Coetzee and Zakes Mda. Rita Barnard called it ‘the first major study to question the very category of “South African literature” and to describe the process of its construction in a sustained, engaging, theoretically astute manner’. I continue to write about and facilitate work on African and South African print cultures, contributing to the Oxford Companion to the Book (2010). Wits University Press published my edited reader, Print, Text and Book Cultures in South Africa, in 2012.

My current principal interest is in writing from South Africa during the past three decades. My most recent book, Present Imperfect: Contemporary South African Writing (Oxford University Press, 2017), mobilises an understand of ‘disappointment’ as description of affect and of temporality (a missed appointment with a future imagined by the anti-apartheid movement) in order to discuss how postapartheid writing engages temporality, genre, and form in its treatment of the fate of the hope that attended the birth of the ‘new’ nation in 1994. Considering in detail work by J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Songeziwe Mahlangu, Masande Ntshanga, Marlene van Niekerk, Ivan Vladislavić, Zoë Wicomb, and Ingrid Winterbach, it assesses their engagements with a range of negative feelings that are also experiences of temporal disjuncture, including stasis, impasse, boredom, disaffection, and nostalgia. Simon Gikandi calls the book ‘one of the most lucid and original reflections on South African writing after Apartheid’. Derek Attridge says it ‘provides an insightful, absorbing and theoretically astute investigation of the status of contemporary South African literature’.

I have published elsewhere on Coetzee (including a short Continuum/Bloomsbury book on Disgrace), Gordimer, and Wicomb, co-edited special issues of journals on South Africa and the global mediascape and on Wicomb and transnationalism, and contributed chapters to the Cambridge History of South African Literature (2012) and the Oxford History of the Novel in English (vol. 11, 2016). I have also published on queer politics and performance in contemporary South African art.

Race, Nation, Translation: South African Essays, 1990-2013, an edited collection of essays by prizewinning South African-born writer Zoë Wicomb, was published by Yale University Press in the US and UK and by Wits University Press in South Africa, in November 2018. In February 2019, Bloomsbury Academic published South African Writing in Transition, a multi-author collection of essays on postapartheid literature, which I co-edited with Rita Barnard (Penn).

In association with this project South African Modernism 1880-2020, I will edit a new scholarly edition of Olive Schreiner’s important 1883 novel, The Story of an African Farm (Edinburgh University Press). I will also co-edit an essay collection with Jade Munslow Ong, which has the working title: Olive Schreiner: Writing Networks and Global Contexts.

postcolonial, world literatures, indigenous

Dr Emma Barnes (Research Assistant)
University of Salford, UK

My research interests include postcolonial, Indigenous and world literatures, with a particular focus on animals, the environment, climate change, and nonhuman resistance to colonialism.


I am a Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century and World Literatures at the University of Salford. My AHRC-funded PhD was awarded in December 2021 for a thesis entitled ‘Plants, Animals, Land: More-than-human Relations and Gendered Survivance in Early Indigenous Women’s Writing’, which I am currently turning into a monograph. I have published a peer-reviewed article in Transmotion, entitled 'Critiquing Settler-colonial Conceptions of ‘Vulnerability’ through Kaona in Mary Kawena Pūku’i’s Mo’olelo, “The Pounded Water of Kekela” and have a forthcoming chapter in the edited collection Olive Schreiner: Writing Networks and Global Contexts. I have published reviews of Timothy Baker's Writing Animals in C21 Literature: Journal of 21st-Century Writings, and Kate Rose's Displaced: Literature of Indigeneity, Migration and Trauma in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. I also have an entry on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books with the Literary Encyclopedia Online (2018).


I was the recipient of the Women’s Voice Award at the University of Salford in 2020, and the University of Salford Create award for Citizenship, also in 2020. These awards recognised my research and teaching achievements, as well as my contributions to public engagement events, including as lead organiser of a University of Salford and Salford City Council collaboration, ‘Windrush Memoirs’, as part of Windrush 70.


Some of my other roles include acting as committee member and co-organiser of the recent Fifth Pan-African Congress 75th Anniversary Celebrations, and Postgraduate representative for the Northern Postcolonial Network. Previously, I was a PGR journal editor for Romance, Revolution and Reform at the University of Southampton.

South African literature, proto-feminism, Olive Schreiner

Dr Sanja Nivesjö (Project Affiliate, Postdoctoral Researcher)

University of Salford, UK / Uppsala University, Sweden

My research interests are centred on Southern African literature and questions of sexuality, gender, race, space, and temporality.


In March 2020 I finished my PhD dissertation, Dis-placed Desires: Space and Sexuality in South African Literature, at Stockholm University, Sweden and Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Germany. In this project, I provide a diachronic view of the interweaving of space and sexuality, their interdependency and mutually constitutive aspects, in seven South African English-language novels from 1920 to 2010. I identify the entanglement of space and sexuality as a trope in South African literature which responds to the country’s history of colonial and apartheid racial segregation and prohibition of interracial sex. The project’s diachronic perspective informs a vital understanding of how current depictions of spatiality and sexuality are related to those during and before apartheid.

As a result of my PhD research, I have developed an interest in the early South African author Olive Schreiner (1855-1920), also active in proto-feminist circles in the UK and Europe. I have co-edited a special issue on Dorothy Driver's 2015 edition of Schreiner's novel From Man to Man with the Journal of Commonwealth Literature (March 2021). Additionally, I have an article on the novel in a special issue of English in Africa (2021) commemorating the centenary of Schreiner’s death. I have also published on Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. 

Funded by the Swedish Research Council, I will spend two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Salford and a third year at Uppsala University working on my new project, which investigates the representation of interracial love in South African and Zimbabwean literature, 1900-1950. This project will constitute an essential historicising contribution to the imagination of racial togetherness and intimacy in early written literature from Southern African. The final intended outcome is a monograph entitled Interracial Love in Literature from Southern Africa, 1900-1950.


Hannah Helm (Research Assistant, Impact and Engagement Fellow)
University of Salford, UK

My main research interests include nineteenth-century and children’s literatures, with a particular focus on feminist, anti-sanist, and anti-ableist representations of women. I am a PhD researcher and sessional lecturer at the University of Salford, and my thesis is entitled ‘Femininity, Madness, and Disability in Nineteenth-Century Children’s Literature and Film Adaptation: A Study in Textual and Visual Forms’.


As Impact and Engagement Fellow on the South African Modernism 1880-2020 project, I am responsible for leading our project work with schools and colleges, as well as taking over Research Assistant duties from Emma (Jan-July 2023).


I have an article in Brontë Studies (March 2021) and two forthcoming in the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies (February 2023) and Journal of Gender, Ethnic, and Cross-Cultural Studies (Summer 2023). I have a book chapter on feminism, fairy-tale narratives, and disability in Gender and Females Villains in Twenty-First Century Fairy Tale Narratives (Emerald, 2022), and have published book reviews in Postgraduate English, Romance, Revolution, and Reform, and Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, with another forthcoming in Marvels and Tales (Spring 2023). I am currently co-writing a chapter on literary representations of madness for a collection entitled Children’s Literature and Culture (forthcoming with Routledge, 2024), as well as a journal article based on our work with colleges. I will also co-edit a collection of papers and proceedings following the ‘Disney at 100 Years: Everlasting Entertainment and a Spellbinding Future' conference in June 2023.


I also currently lead the ‘Widening Participation in Research’ EDI project at the University of Salford (October 2022-October 2023). My role involves designing a summer research programme for undergraduate students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in research. I was the recipient of the Performance, English and Creative Writing Create Award at the University of Salford (June 2022) in recognition of my research and teaching, as well as my broader contributions to the postgraduate community.

University of Salford
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