Dr Rowena Kennedy-Epstein

BA (Bard), MFA (CUNY), PhD (CUNY)

  • BS8 1TB

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Personal profile

Research interests

 

My research explores the relationships between politics, gender, and experimental forms in twentieth- and twenty-first century writing by women. Much of my work is focused on transnational modernisms and I’m especially interested in how women writers document and theorize dissident and radical histories through forms that defy the boundaries of gender and genre. I'm especially interested in how race and gender inform literary reception, disciplinary norms and publishing practices. I spend a lot of my time in archives thinking about how the unpublished work gives us access to new kinds of interpretive opportunities that can lead to a more complex understanding of historical periods, political communities, and the literary forms that are created to engage them.

I recovered and edited the American poet Muriel Rukeyser’s lost Spanish Civil War novel Savage Coast (The Feminist Press, 2013), as well as materials included in the edition “Barcelona, 1936” & Selections from the Spanish Civil War Archive (Lost&Found, 2011). My scholarship and writing have appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, The Journal of Narrative Theory, Textual Practice, Modernism/Modernity, Literature and History, The Paris Review, and Harper’s, among other places. And I edited a special issue on Women's Experimental Forms for JNT: The Journal of Narrative Theory.

My book, Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser's Twentieth Century (Cornell University Press, 2022) explores Rukeyser's unfinished experimental, interdisciplinary texts written between 1939 and 1960. Despite her status as an influential poet and writer whose work was often at the forefront of artistic and political movements, many of Rukeyser’s most ambitious projects were suppressed by Cold War gender and political orthodoxies, remaining unpublished in her archive. Theoretically ambitious, multi-genre, sometimes collaborative, these texts continued the radical, avant-garde project of modernism and traced a polyphonic American tradition that challenged an increasingly hegemonic Cold War culture. Rukeyser’s unpublished works give us a unique view of the conditions that produce a text’s unfinished-ness—the sexism of editors, the withdrawal of funding and publishing contracts, political censure and intellectual derision, motherhood and economic precarity—and they are also bound together by Rukeyser’s radical vision of artistic creation and political engagement. It is through the recovery of these unfinished, “wasted” texts that we can better understand how twentieth-century ideologies of exclusion have been formed through literary and academic values; but it is also through these texts that we can uncover the kinds of complex, feminist approaches necessary for dismantling these very same ideologies.


Extending from my scholarly book, I am writing the first biography of Rukeyser for Bloomsbury (2025), as well as co-editing Rukeyser's Selected Prose for Cornell UP (2023). 

Research Interests: 
Women writers; theories of feminism, gender, and sexuality; modernism, especially in transnational contexts; critical race studies; writing on war; political commitment; the archive and textual scholarship; experimental forms and the avant-garde; American literature; transatlantic cultural studies; poetry and poetics; the documentary; multi-ethnic literatures; political activism and protest; visual culture.

I’ve supervised PhD students on a range of topics, including modernist women’s anti-fascist journalism, women writers and the BBC, modernism and the politics of education, post-war feminist graphic novels, spirituality and the feminist avant-garde, and feminist sensory studies.

Current and recent courses include:

The American Avant-garde
War Stories: Women Writers and Conflict from WWI to 9/11
Twentieth-Century Women Writers
The Spanish Civil War in British and American Writing
Transatlantic Women Modernists
Celebrity Cultures: Icons, Industry and Aesthetics.
Literature 1900-Present

 

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