Category Archives: Conferences

‘What Happens Now: 21st Century Writing in English’ 4th Biennial International Conference, 27-30 June 2016, University of Lincoln

Conservative Politics/Radical Poetics

The 21st century gets more and more odd. Thomas Picketty claims we are returning to 19th century economic relations between capital and the masses. In Britain we have re-entered conservative politics despite the most blatant bankruptcy of capitalism since the Thirties, but at the same time the potential break up of the United Kingdom and with the European Union would be political developments as structurally decisive as the end of empire or World War I. Much the same is true in Europe and the world where conservative and radical visions seem to hang in the balance.

In literature too there is a curious mix of stasis and innovation. Modernism retains its mesmerising influence and literary writers like Zadie Smith, Tom McCarthy and Will Self still profess allegiance to its ageing paradigm – is that radical or conservative? Hilary Mantel and Jonathan Franzen have been immensely successful with the well-made novel: does that mean they are middlebrow? In poetry the war between mainstream and (post)modernism rumbles on, shorn of much of its vitriol but not of its substance: but are Grand Old Men like Geoffrey Hill, JH Prynne or Paul Muldoon revolutionaries? – and who reads contemporary poetry anyway, even in literary studies? In theatre debates continue over the political implications of new writing v devised theatre, the dramatic v post-dramatic, and passive v active spectatorship; meanwhile West End and Broadway musicals attract twice as many theatre goers as those attending plays.

In the 2016 WHN conference we invite scholars of 21st century literature to discuss radicalism and/or conservatism in form, function and affect. We welcome work on all forms of literature including fiction, poetry, drama, theatre, life writing, and graphic novels that has been published/performed since 2000.

Please send 250-350 word abstracts for 20-minute papers with brief biographical notes (about 50 words) in word format to the conference email address: by October 31st 2015. Panel proposals also welcome.

Conference organisers: Dr Siân Adiseshiah, Dr Ruth Charnock and Dr Rupert Hildyard.

Please send 250-350 word abstracts for 20-minute papers with brief biographical notes (about 50 words) in word format to the conference email address: by 1 January 2016. Panel proposals also welcome. CFP now closed.

What Happens Now 2014

In 2006 the English team were looking for a way to make our new MA programme stand out from the crowd and we decided to focus on writing from the new millennium: poetry, drama, fiction and life writing published since 2000. Our MA in 21st century literature has since survived and prospered in a very competitive marketplace. Part of the reason for that decision was our belief that there was room for a postgraduate course in English that was genuinely and fully contemporary. We also believed that there were a lot of researchers and scholars working on 21st century literature and that our department might fruitfully help to bring together that area of work in literary studies.

In pursuit of that aim we launched What Happens Now, a conference on 21st century writing in English, in July 2010, successfully convening some 70 speakers for an enjoyable four day international conference on the literature of the first decade of the new century. The conference was enlivened by the presence of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, public intellectual and radical gadfly Will Self, avant garde performance artist Tim Crouch and a number of other contemporary writers and scholars. The conference was deemed a success, even by its exhausted organizers, and What Happens Now has now become a biennial event at Lincoln and July 2014 marks its third occasion. Around 100 scholars presented papers, including about 45 international delegates from 15 different countries with strong contingents from the USA, Spain and Germany but also scholars from Slovakia, Nigeria, Egypt and China.

At the 2014 conference, we were treated to presentations on capital, utopia, drama & science, postapocalypse, nature in the Anthropocene, digital revolutions, and Britain in the 21st century as well as many other topics. Amongst the 21st century genres considered were Neo-Victorian, the latest incarnation (or should that be apparition?) of the Gothic, Short Story cycles, young adult fiction and new forms of poetry. It is always interesting to see which writers and texts are getting the academics interested and excited: this year there seemed to be extra attention for David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel and Mark Ravenhill as well as old favourites David Foster Wallace and Margaret Atwood. The continuing rise in the profile of the conference was signalled by the eminence of the guest speakers – Derek Attridge, Robert Eaglestone, Colette Conroy and Imogen Tyler (videos of which you can watch below!) – along with readings by the poet and writer Paul Farley and a welcome return to Lincoln by Tim Crouch and Andy Smith for a performance of What happens to the hope at the end of the evening.


Derek Attridge

Colette Conroy

Imogen Tyler

Robert Eaglestone

2nd International Conference

‘What Happens Now: 21st Century Writing in English’

2nd International Conference, July 2012, University of Lincoln

‘What Happens Now’ , the 2nd international conference on 21st century writing in English took place 16-18 July 2012 at the University of Lincoln. Organised by Siân Adiseshiah and Rupert Hildyard from English in the School of Humanities, the conference was attended by some ninety delegates from fourteen different countries, including Japan, South Korea, China, India, Canada, USA, Turkey, Hungary, Italy, Germany and seven delegates came from Spain (five of whom had come to the first conference in 2010).  Sixty two  papers were given at the conference, including six from colleagues and postgraduates in the School of Humanities, generating lively debate about what is happening now in 21st century literature. The guest speakers to the conference were the Scottish poet and writer Kathleen Jamie,  Tishani Doshi from Madras in India, and Geoff Dyer one of the most innovative prose writers in Britain today. Complementary plenary keynotes were given by Professor Peter Boxall  of the University of Sussex and Dr Rachel Carroll of Teeside University, the former a wide ranging  discussion of the future of the novel in the wake of postmodernism, and the latter a close study of Julian Barnes’ Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending focussing on disability as an issue in 21st century literature.  The conference confirmed the vitality of 21st century literature and the leading role taken by Lincoln in research and debate about this growing area of literary studies. A 3rd conference will take place in 2014.