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.