Contagion: Spread the Word (12/7/2021)

Contagion: Spread the Word

Book tickets here

With Keynote Speaker Professor Elizabeth Outka (University of Richmond, Virginia)

‘Influenza Aesthetics: Contagion in Interwar Literature and Culture’

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed an astonishing 50-100 million people worldwide. Arriving just as World War One was drawing to a close, the pandemic brought a non-human, invisible horror into every community, shifting enemies, threats, and targets, and changing the calculus of risk and blame between soldiers and civilians. This talk investigates how the era’s second mass death event seeped into literature and culture, its catastrophic contagion inspiring guilt, xenophobic rage, and atmospheric dread in works from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to H. P. Lovecraft’s stories of proto-zombies.

Elizabeth Outka is Professor of English at the University of Richmond. Her latest book, Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature (Columbia University Press 2020), investigates how one of the deadliest plagues in history—the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic—silently reshaped the modernist era, infusing everything from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, to the emergence of viral zombies, to the popularity of séances. She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the 2020 South Atlantic Modern Language Association Book Prize.

She has written on topics ranging from consumer culture, to postcolonial representations of trauma, to disability studies. Her first book, Consuming Traditions: Modernity, Modernism, and the Commodified Authentic (Oxford University Press 2009; 2012) explored the marketing of authenticity in turn-of-the-century British literature and culture. Her essays have appeared in Modernism/modernity, NOVEL, Contemporary Literature, The Paris Review Daily and many edited collections. 

She teaches courses on modernism, twentieth- and twenty-first century Anglophone literature, the contemporary novel, the literatures of war, environmental literature, social change and modern drama, and women in literature. She received her B.A. from Yale University and her M.A. and PhD from the University of Virginia.