Single Lives: 200 Years of Independent Women in Literature & Popular Culture

University College Dublin, 13-14 October 2017


Proposal Deadline: 1 April 2017, midnight Dublin time.

Notifications by 1 May 2017

This conference will explore the last 200 years of literature and popular media by, about, and for single women in relation to aesthetics and form, race, sexuality, class, space, reproduction and the family, political movements, and labor.

Independent women —singly blessed, new, surplus, or adrift— have remained a center around which anxieties and excitement coalesce. A range of historians, demographers, and literary scholars have focused on the social and political significance of diverse single women in the nineteenth, twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries. Moving between the family home and domestic independence, between household and public labor, and between chastity and a range of sexual relations, the single woman remains a literary and cultural focus.

In recent years, especially in relation to UK and US elections, there has been an explosion of popular interest in contemporary singleness. Rebecca Traister’s Big Girls Don’t Cry and All the Single Ladies, comedian Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo, the Washington Post’s “Solo-ish” column, as well as the work of psychologist and single-rights activist Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored but Still Live Happily Ever After, all explore what it means to be a socially, politically, and sexually active single person in the 21st century. News outlets, film, television, and a host of social and marketing media have demonstrated that people are fascinated by the changing status of singles.

Singleness Studies has emerged as an academic field over the last two decades but has rarely had its own forum for collaboration and exchange. This conference will bring together multiple disciplinary perspectives to uncover the social, political, economic, and cultural connections between the “singly blessed” women and “bachelor girls” of the 19th and early-20th century and “all the single ladies” of the contemporary moment. We seek proposals that analyze single lives within or across this time frame, from disciplines including literature, media studies, history, geography, sociology, architecture, political science, and more. Papers and full panels that create new perspectives by crossing boundaries and integrating multiple disciplines are especially welcome.


Keynote Speaker: Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister is the author of the best-selling All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, a New York Times Notable Book of 2016. Traister, a National Magazine Award finalist and winner of the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, is writer-at-large for New York Magazine, where she covers politics, media and culture from a feminist perspective. She has also written for The New Republic, Salon, Elle, The Nation, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Her book Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 and the winner of the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. She lives in New York City.

Possible topics include

  • Representation of singles in literature
  • Representation of singles in film, television, and other digital media
  • Narrative form
  • Space and architecture
  • Demographic change
  • Reproductive rights and family structures
  • Reproduction and temporality
  • Independent women’s labor and political work
  • “Women adrift” and crisis narratives
  • Singleness and race, class, or identity politics
  • Queer singleness
  • Familiar Figures: bachelor girls, spinsters, new women, and single ladies
  • The single and the state
  • Singleness and literary or media genre
  • Conservative and radical independence
  • Singleness in Trump’s America
  • Single activism
  • Comparative singleness
  • Singleness and disability

Scholars from all disciplines are encouraged to apply.


Full Panel Proposals: Panel coordinators should submit a 200-word rationale for the panel as whole. For each contributor, please submit a 250-word abstract, a short bio, and contact information. Panels
that include diverse panelists with a range of affiliations, career experiences, and disciplinary homes are strongly encouraged. Panels should include 4 papers. Submissions can be emailed as a Word document to
Individual Papers: Individuals submitting paper proposals should provide an abstract of 250 words, a short bio, and contact information. Submissions can be emailed as a Word document to:


Conference Statement:  We hope to host a diverse, welcoming, open first Single Lives conference. We understand diversity to include attendees as well as academic subject, approach, and field. We welcome comparative projects, though because of its smaller scale, this conference will be conducted in English.
Please direct all questions about the conference and the submission process to:
For up to date conference details, see our website:

Find us on Facebook:

Follow us on Twitter: @SingleLives2017

Conference Organizers:

Kate Fama

Jorie Lagerwey

School of English, Drama, and Film

University College Dublin


Conference Sponsors

College of Arts and Humanities, University College Dublin

Humanities Institute, University College Dublin

The Annual General Meeting of the IAAS will take place at 3.45pm at Ulster University, Belfast on Saturday, April 29th. All members are encouraged to attend if possible as your input helps to shape the future direction of the Association. A number of positions on the Executive Committee will be open for election at this year’s AGM. We encourage nominations from members who have not yet had an opportunity to serve on the committee. You can view the agenda for the AGM here.

A brief EGM is scheduled for 3.30pm on Friday, April 28th. At this EGM, the following amendment to the IAAS Constitution will be put to a vote of the membership:

It is proposed to make the following changes to Section 4 (c) of the Constitution of the Irish Association for American Studies, and amend all subsequent references to these roles throughout the Constitution:

(c) The Executive Committee shall be:
(i) The Chair
(ii) The Vice Chair
(iii) The Secretary & Membership Secretary
(iv)  The Treasurer
(v) The Postgraduate Representative
(vi) The Early Career Representative
(vii) The IAAS representative to the European Association for American Studies
(viii) Two Ordinary members.***
A copy of the Association’s Constitution can be found here.

As a result of this amendment, the following positions will be open for election at the AGM:

  • Chair
  • Secretary & Membership Secretary
  • Postgraduate Representative
  • Early Career Representative

Other positions may become vacant as a result of these elections. If you are interested in serving on the Committee you must be a fully paid-up member of the Association before submitting your nomination. If you would like to nominate another member of the Association for any of these positions, you must have their written permission to do so.

Nominations should be emailed to the Secretary ( by 6pm on April 28th.

Notice of nominations received will be posted on the IAAS website, as well as at the conference venue. Should more than one nomination be received for any position, an election will be held during the AGM. Only members present at the AGM will be able to vote.

The minutes from last year’s AGM are posted on the IAAS website here. If you have any items you would like discussed at the AGM please contact the Secretary by April 20th.

The Prizes subcommittee of the IAAS is delighted to announce that Sarah McCreedy of University College Cork has been awarded the BAAS Annual Conference Bursary for 2017. Canterbury Christ Church University will be hosting this year’s BAAS Conference, and Sarah will be presenting a paper entitled “‘Rethinking decisions they’d already made’: New naturalism and Neoliberal identity in ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.’ Full details of the BAAS 2017 programme can be found here.

More information about funding opportunities from the IAAS can be found here.

Robert Lowell and Ireland: A Centenary Symposium

3-5 March 2017

Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute


Robert Lowell (1917-77) was a major American poet whose work continues to influence writers today. In the 1970s Lowell spent time living at Castletown House with his third wife, the writer Caroline Blackwood. During this time he was also friendly with a number of Irish poets, including Seamus Heaney. To celebrate Lowell’s connections with Castletown House and Ireland, a symposium will take place at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute. The final day of the programme of events will bring together four contemporary Irish poets who will read from his work and their own: Gerald Dawe, Paul Muldoon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Julie O’Callaghan.

The symposium is free and open to the public, but advance booking for the final reading at Castletown House is essential. More information about reserving your place can be found here.



This event is presented in partnership with the School of English and the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, the Irish Association for American Studies, the OPW, and Poetry Ireland.

The IAAS have extended the deadline for submission to the Adam Matthew Digital Essay Prize. Submissions must be received on or before 15th March 2017. This is an excellent opportunity for one lucky IAAS member to avail of and explore these extensive online collections, which relate to 18th-, 19th– and 20th-century American history, culture, literature, and society.

The winner will be awarded €100 and one year’s access to an Adam Matthew digital primary-source collection, of the winner’s choice.

This essay competition is open to late-stage PhD candidates, early-career researchers (within 7 years of competing a PhD), and independent scholars working on any area of North-American Studies, including (but by no means limited to) history, literature, and popular culture, and normally resident in Ireland or Northern Ireland. The scope of the competition reflects the IAAS’s wide-ranging interests, and our commitment to developing and fostering the inter- and multi-disciplinary study of North America throughout Ireland.

Applicants MUST be members of the IAAS. You can join the Association here.

Essays should relate broadly to a topic covered by any one of Adam Matthew’s North American Collections which include topics such as

  • African-American Communities
  • American Consumer Culture
  • Everyday Life and Women in America c.1800-1920
  • Jewish Life in America c.1654-1954
  • The Nixon Years
  • World’s Fairs

It is not necessary for submitted essays to make use of these collections; however, should you wish to do so, a 30-day free trial is available. Details can be found here (


Submission Guidelines:

  • Essays must be between 3000 and 5000 words in length (including notes).
  • Essays must be written in English and submitted as PDFs.
  • Essays must be formatted in accordance with the MLA style manual.
  • The author’s name or institutional affiliation must not appear anywhere on the essay. These details should be included in the submission email.

The winner will be announced at the IAAS Annual Conference in Ulster University in April 2017, and may be considered for inclusion in The Irish Journal of American Studies.

Please send all submissions and enquiries to Dara Downey:

**NB – essays must not be submitted to Adam Matthew**

2017-emmerson-lectureThis year’s W.A. Emmerson Lecture will take place on March 22 at 6.30pm in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute. We are delighted to welcome Dianne Kirby of Queen’s University Belfast, who will deliver a lecture entitled ‘Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and God.’ The lecture is free and open to the public.



You can listen to a recording of the lecture here.



For information on previous lectures click here.






Earlier in the year, the IAAS awarded two bursaries to assist postgraduate students with attendance at the biennial EAAS conference in Romania. Eve Cobain, Trinity College Dublin, was one of the awardees.

I was the happy recipient of a bursary to attend the EAAS conference, held in the Romanian seaside town of Constanta back in April this year. The EAAS Biennial is a behemoth conference, with up to fourteen sessions running at one time. Over three days, I attended papers on subjects ranging from queer performance to abject toys, neoliberalism to contact improvisation. As a devout reader of poetry, particularly the middle-generation American poet John Berryman, much of this was unfamiliar territory, but the assortment of voices and activities brought me to a renewed enthusiasm for my work as part of the American Studies scene more broadly.

ConstantaA particular highlight was the evening extravaganza, “A journey through blues and swing to Armenian ethnic jazz,” led by Harry Tavitan, alongside daughter, Aida Tavitan. From the end of the ’70s, according to the conference brochure, Tavitan became the leader of the avant-garde movement in Romanian jazz. It was fascinating to see how blues and jazz, as musical forms born in the US, have melded with local Romanian and Armenian musical traditions – the result was arresting. An additional highlight was Tavitan’s reading of Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues,” which was conducted with the same feeling and intuition as observed in his musical practice.

My own panel took place on Sunday the 24th April between 11am and 1pm, giving lots of time for discussion between participants. First up, Ulrich Adelt, from the University of Wyoming, spoke about Blues, Race and the Civil Rights Movement. Having observed the title of this paper on the programme a few months previously, I had become a little anxious about my own subject: John Berryman’s treatment of the blues. Ulrich focused particularly on white performance and masculinity in the 1960s, explaining how women artists during this period were often overlooked or silenced. Indeed, it was during this period that John Berryman was working on his most blues-focused poems. The interaction between the two papers caused me to reevaluate Berryman’s blues poems, which celebrate the work of female artists, Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey. While Berryman’s tendency toward mimicry was still in question, then, I came away with an added perspective: that the poet’s decision to focus specifically on women artists during this period in which men held sway was at least partly a political one. Gavin Cologne-Brookes of Bath Spa University brought the panel to a close with a pragmatic and optimistic paper on Springsteen and the “Uses of Art”.

Another panel, chaired by two scholars from my alma mater, Queen’s University Belfast, also left an impression. On a panel entitled “Negotiating the Seen and Felt: Where American Art meets American Writing”, Catherine Gander and Sarah Garland explored ideas of text and embodiment, and the relationship between word and object. Catherine Gander’s paper in particular raised questions surrounding the radicalised body (through the work of Basquiat and Rankine, amongst others), as well as the politics of the textual image, while in Sarah Garland’s discussion of Aspen, the magazine in a box, the notion of “reading” was troubled yet further.

The conference was rounded off with the banquet to end all banquets – where our own Philip McGowan was announced EAAS president-elect – and an open bar that had us all upstanding.

Katie Ahern is a PhD candidate at the School of English in University College Cork. She was the recipient of one of our postgraduate travel awards this summer.

Wharton conf pic
Larz Anderson House Ballroom

With the aid of the Irish Association for American Studies travel bursary, I travelled to Washington DC to present at the Edith Wharton Society conference “Wharton in Washington”. It was the first conference run by the Edith Wharton Society in four years (the last was in Florence in 2012), and proved to be an invaluable opportunity for me to engage with the most recent Wharton scholarship, and indeed to meet many prominent scholars in the field. The conference ran from the 2nd of June through to the 4th and was located on Embassy Row in Washington, split between the Fairfax Hotel and the Larz Anderson House – the Gilded Age mansion truly helped create a wonderful atmosphere for the conference!

My PhD thesis, All Night Long I Walked the Streets, Drunk with my Dreams”: A Comparative Study of Urban Space in Twentieth-Century American Literature’ analyses American novels set in the urban environment to investigate marginalised identities and establish the ways in which neglected identities were conceived of by twentieth-century American writers.  My chosen authors rarely, if ever, have conferences centred on them, and so this conference provided a valuable insight into the work of other, more established scholars as well as facilitating a deeper critical understanding of Edith Wharton’s work.  The conference organisers, Drs Melanie Dawson and Jennifer Haytock, clearly went to great effort to put together thoughtful panels with papers which linked clearly together and created coherent lines of thought. I was excited to meet with scholars I had met previously, and also to hear the biggest names in Edith Wharton studies give their thoughts on the current areas of interest.

The first evening’s keynote speaker was Dr Laura Rattray, Reader in North American Literature at the University of Glasgow, whose publications include the edited collection of Edith Wharton’s unpublished writings, and who is currently one of the foremost Wharton scholars. Dr Rattray delivered a wonderful talk about the developments in Wharton studies in recent years, while also pointing out the absences of scholarship on some areas of Wharton’s writing – specifically a lack of interest in her as a poet and a playwright. The second keynote speaker was the screenwriter and director Christopher Hampton, who gave an interesting and entertaining account of the difficulties he has experienced in his attempts to bring Wharton’s novel The Custom of the Country to screen.

Wharton conference pic
Wharton conference delegates

Conference presentations are always a valuable method to gain new understanding of one’s work and to be able to present my work on Wharton towards the end of my PhD gave me the opportunity to gauge the quality of my own work on one of the authors central to my studies for such a long time. It was fascinating to hear papers from authors whose work I’ve read for years, and to have the chance to discuss my paper and thoughts with them was wonderful. The more established delegates were very welcoming towards new scholars, and thoughtful with their feedback which made the trip both useful from a scholarly perspective and enjoyable.


David Coughlan is a Lecturer in English at the University of Limerick, and is the Executive Editor of the Irish Journal of American Studies

DCHow did you end up where you are now? 

I did a BA in English and Philosophy and an MPhil at University College Cork, and I did my PhD in Goldsmiths College, University of London. After that, I was an English Lecturer in Chuo University, Tokyo, for three years, was unemployed for a year, was a Teaching Assistant in the University of Limerick for a year, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in University College Cork for a year. I returned to the University of Limerick in 2008 as a Lecturer in English, and I’ve been here ever since.

Tell us a little bit about your current research interests?

Currently, I have a book coming out, called Ghost Writing in Contemporary American Fiction. The blurb says, “This book examines representations of the specter in American twentieth- and twenty-first-century fiction. David Coughlan’s innovative structure incorporates chapters on Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, and Philip Roth, alternating with shorter sections that connect the significance of the ghost to the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, particularly within the context of his 1993 text Specters of Marx. Together, these accounts of phantoms, shadows, haunts, spirit, the death sentence, and hospitality provide a compelling theoretical context in which to read contemporary US literature. Ghost Writing in Contemporary American Fiction argues at every stage that there is no self, no relation to the other, no love, no home, no mourning, no future, no trace of life without the return of the specter or, that is, without ghost writing.”

Favourite book/film/album?

Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist, which is a masterpiece; Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, and not just for Owen Wilson as Cormac McCarthy; and Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell, which I saw him perform live in the Kings Theatre, Brooklyn, unforgettably.

Universities don’t exist. What job would you have instead?

In this alternative universe, I’d be aide to US President Jennifer Daly.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Mark Ruffalo, apparently.

How did you get involved with the IAAS?

For a long time, I was “involved” with the IAAS without realising it. In my second year in UCC, I took Introduction to American Literature with Sue Norton, now in DIT and a former treasurer of the IAAS. In my third year, I took Twentieth-Century Fiction with Ron Callan, former Chair and current President Emeritus of the IAAS. In Goldsmiths, I tutored on Modern American Fiction when the lecturer was Philip McGowan, former Chair and current EAAS Representative of the IAAS. So the IAAS has been there at every stage of my life in American Studies. But it wasn’t until 2012 that I attended my first IAAS conference and got properly involved – so properly involved that we hosted the conference in UL the following year.

In an alternate universe to question 4, you have somehow ended up establishing your own university. What’s the motto?

“To learn to live finally” (Derrida, Specters of Marx xvii).

We’re all going to call around this evening. What’s for dinner?

Tonight? Let’s eat out! Or there’s leftover curry?

Who is your hero, academic or otherwise?

Academic: Derrida. Otherwise: Spider-Man.

Free space! You have about 200 words to plug something dear to your heart/announce plans to take over the universe/tell us about the grand plans you have as a member of the committee…

I’m on the committee as the Executive Editor of the Irish Journal of American Studies, the journal of the IAAS. The journal first appeared in 1992, edited by W. T. M. Riches (after whom the IAAS essay prize is now named) and Stephen Matterson. It included articles by Milton Cantor and Steve Ickringill and a tribute to Alan Graham (a founding member of the IAAS), and it published the first Alan Graham Memorial Lecture, delivered by his good friend George Shepperson. The journal has, since its inception, been at the heart of American Studies scholarship on this island even as it has published work from around the world, including an essay by Angela Davis and an interview with John Updike. The journal has also seen a number of changes, going online in 2009 and, more recently, adopting a rolling publication format. I’m proud to be in a position now to continue the extraordinary work of the previous editors and to ensure that this vital journal remains the place to publish on American Studies in Ireland.