Anna Kavan’s publication history spans from her early novels under the name Helen Ferguson in the late 1920s and early 1930s to her last work which won Brian Aldiss’ prize for ‘Sci-Fi Novel of the Year’ in 1967. Her own life story has been widely reported in magazine articles, book reviews and popular biography, but there has been little serious scholarly attention to her writing. The often sensationalized focus on Kavan’s biography, particularly her adoption of her own fictional character’s name, her long-term heroin addiction, and her psychological difficulties, has overshadowed serious critical attention to her work. Yet, her writing continues to be published in English and translation, to hold fascination for new generations of readers, and to interest or influence other writers and artists. This symposium aims to bring together scholars with an interest in Kavan to promote an increasing academic focus on her work. The day will be a forum for knowledge sharing, with the broad aims of historicizing Kavan’s work, situating her within the literary and intellectual context of her times, and charting her legacy as a writer. The symposium will close with a public event in the evening at which novelist Maggie Gee will discuss Kavan’s writing, and consider points of comparison with her own work and her experience as a contemporary author.
The symposium will primarily focus on Kavan’s fictional writing, but also welcomes those working on her biography, her journalism, her little-studied artwork and her philosophical or intellectual influences. Papers might include the following topics:
- Comparative readings of Kavan’s fiction with her contemporaries and the authors who have admired her since (e.g. Doris Lessing, J G Ballard, Anais Nin, Maggie Gee).
- Connections/differences between her writing as Helen Ferguson/ Anna Kavan.
- High Modernist influences on Kavan’s work.
- Readings of Kavan’s fiction that historicize her writing in the context of the Second World War, the Cold War and 1960s counterculture.
- Kavan’s theoretical or philosophical influences.
- Feminist readings and reassessments of Kavan’s work.
- Examination of the (post-)colonial aspects of Kavan’s fiction and journalism.
- Kavan’s engagement with visual cultures, including her own artwork.
- Studies of Kavan’s use of form (especially the short story) and narrative style (especially her distinctive uses of first and third person narrative).
- Theories of autobiography and fiction and their impact on the reception of Kavan’s life and work.
- Kavan’s writing of madness, asylum incarceration and opiate addiction.
- Kavan’s literary networks (e.g. her friendships with Rhys Davies, Kay Dick, Sylvia Townsend-Warner and others, and her associations with Cyril Connolly and Jonathan Cape).
- Issues of genre including interpretations of Kavan’s work as ‘Science Fiction’.
- Kavan’s journalism (in Horizon) and its relation to her fictional writing.
- Other writers’ engagement with Kavan and the legacy of her work.
Presentations should take the form of 20-minute papers. Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by 16 May 2014.