The Graduate English Students Association (GESA) at the University of Virginia organizes and sponsors a graduate conference (GradCon) each year. This event stimulates the intellectual life of the University by supporting new scholarship in the humanities, and providing unique enrichment opportunities for graduate students. It is a collegial and enriching site for graduate students from all departments at UVA and external institutions to present their research and network with like-minded scholars.

2017-18: Constructing Experience: Narrative Innovations Across Time and Media
2018-19: Attachment and Affect
2019-20: Transformation
2023-2024: Intimacies


Spring 2024

For more information on the spring Grad Symposium or to volunteer, please contact Arselyne Chery or Mackenzie Daly

October 2 – 4, 2020

University of Virginia
A Virtual Conference

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are on today, the Monacan Nation, and pay our respect to their elders past and present.

Program and Online Registration

Dear all,

The pre-registration period has now closed. All of those who pre-registered will receive the links by email to their selected events every morning at 8:00AM (EST).

If you would like to attend the keynote, roundtable, or a panel discussion but did not pre-register, please email the designated Zoom host to ask for the link at the time of the event that you wish to attend.

Note: if you could like to suggest a break-out room topic (this can be academic, non-academic, anything really) for our Happy Hours, please use Slido to anonymously submit your request (scroll to the bottom of this program).

—Cherrie Kwok and John Modica, GradCon Co-Chairs 2020

Friday October 2

Meet and Greet
Zoom Host: John (

Keynote: “The Humanities as a Racial (Trans)Formation”
– Kandice Chuh (CUNY), Professor of English, American Studies, and Critical Social Psychology
Zoom Host: Cherrie (


P1: Death, Destruction, and Despair: Victorian Madness, Modernist Invasions 
Chair: Stephen Arata, Professor, Department of English 
Zoom Host: Cherrie (

– Zoe Kempf-Harris (UVA)“‘Manderley Again’: The Static Spaces of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca

– Divya Radhika Bhalla (Kansas), “A Polity of Multifarious Denizens: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and the Mad Scientist”

– Graeme Calloway (Tufts), “Invading Modernism: The Destructive Plasticity of Invasion Novels”

P2: Shifting Theoretical Paradigms 
Chair: Mrinalini Chakravorty, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of English
Zoom Host: John (

– Megan Butler (UW), “Literature and the Refugee: Reparative Reading for Transformation in Complex Humanitarian Crises”

– Grant King (UVA), “Queer Reading as an Act of Transformation”

– Ziqi Jin (UW), “Potential Interactions between Creative Writing and Literary Criticism”

– Kasinda Lang (California State Polytechnic), “Reconciling Music and Affect Under Neoliberalism in Contemporary American Literature”

P3: Animalism, Myth, Folklore, and the Sacred 
Chair: Njelle Hamilton, Associate Professor, Departments of English, and African American and African Studies
Zoom Host: Cherrie (

– Eliot Davenport (UVA), “Ambā: A Story of Sex, Gender, and Transformation in the Mahābhārata

– Nancy Vera (Maryland), “Witches & Tricksters: Feminine Forms of Resistance in Afro-Mexican Folklore”

– Zaina Ujayli (UVA), “Following the Religion of Love: A Poetic Comparison of William Blake and Mohammad Ibn al-Arabi”

– Margaret Fisher (UCSB), “Human Story, Animal Consequence: Elephants as Uncooperative Tools of the Western Literary Tradition”

P4: A Sea Change: Collectivities, History, and Language  
Chair: Amitav Ghosh, Recipient of India’s 54th Jnanpith Award for outstanding contribution to literature, and Writer-in-Residence at UVA’s Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures
Zoom Host: John (

– Kaylee Lamb (UVA), The “Black Atlantic:” Challenging the Notions of Order Through Sacred Hunger and Feeding the Ghosts”

– Grace Skidmore (UVA), “Undercurrents of the Universal: Elements of Amitav Ghosh’s Linguistic Weave”

– Maile Young (UC Santa Barbara), “Cellular Potential: Beyond Sovereign Subjectivity”

Saturday October 3

Roundtable Discussion:Transformations at the University
Zoom Host: Cherrie (
– Susan Fraiman (UVA), Professor of English
– Travis Chi Wing Lau (Kenyon), Assistant Professor of English
– Grace Lavery (UC Berkeley), Associate Professor of English
Kiki Petrosino (UVA), Professor of Poetry
Talia Schaffer (CUNY), Professor of English
– Lisa Woolfork (UVA), Associate Professor of English

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have made it clear that returning to “normal” is not a possibility, especially at the university and in the academy more broadly. As we begin to reimagine a different future for ourselves and our professions, we have brought together a few professors to share their thoughts. The discussion will be loosely structured around a few framing questions like: When you were a graduate student, what kind of professor did you hope to become? What changes did you hope to make—and, now that you are a professor, do you think that you have managed to achieve those changes, or have your aspirations shifted? What transformations at your university—or in academia as a whole—have you benefited from over the last decade? What kind of transformations do you hope to see in the future for students, professors, or staff at the university, or in our profession?


P5: “Are You Not Entertained?”: Theatre, Performance, and Television
Chair: Andrea Press, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Media Studies and Sociology
Zoom Host: John (

– Amy Billings (Kansas), “Execution as Entertainment: The Theatricalization of 19th Century Gallows Broadsides”

– Emily Furlich (VCU), “Gender, Sexuality, and the Suppression of Lesbian Readings in Marianne Elliott’s Re-gendered Productions of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company”

– Elana Maloul (Michigan), “Watching You, Watching Me”

Digital Humanities Masterclass:Josephine Miles, Textual Transformations and Part-of-Speech Tagging”
Zoom Host: Cherrie (

– Brad Pasanek (UVA), Mayo NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of English

– Brandon Walsh (UVA), Head of Student Programs, UVA Library Scholars’ Lab

P6: Remake Thy Maker: Translations and Reinventions From the Medieval Period and Beyond 
Chair: Peter Baker, Professor and Director of Graduate Admissions, Department of English
Zoom Host: John (

– Julie Wilson (UVA), “Translations and Transformations of Beowulf in Late Nineteenth-Century America: A Bibliographic Study of James Mercer Garnett’s First Edition (1882) of the Poem in Modern English”

– Mary Ruth Robinson (UVA), “Infinite Variety: Translating Cleopatra into Sixteenth-Century Closet Drama”

– Ronny Ford (Michigan State), “Destructions of Transformations: Gender and Normativity in Le Roman de Silence

Welcome Back Happy Hour
Zoom Host: Cherrie (

Sunday October 4

P7: Radical Women!  
Chair: Susan Fraiman, Professor, Department of English
Zoom Host: Alexandra (

– Tarushi Sonthalia (UVA), “A Matter of Time(s), A Matter of Silence(s): Regendering Temporality in Shashi Deshpande’s Works”

– Kailey Cole (Northwestern), “The Womanless Woman: Transformations and Rejections of Femininity in Housekeeping and Final Payments

– Morgan Connor (Texas Tech), “Speculative Fiction: Judith Butler, Margaret Atwood, and 21st Century Feminist Protest”

P8: Poetic (Trans)Formations 
Chair: Brian Teare, finalist for the 2019 National Book Critics Circle and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Awards, and Associate Professor at the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program
Zoom Host: Matt (

– Nicholas Lauridsen (UVA): “The Only World that Showed Up: The Word Problems of Prose Poetry in Edson, Hass, Harvey”

– Catherine Walshak (UVA): “A Poet is a Made Thing: Self-Branding & Commodification in Instagram Poetry”

– Ren Koloni (George Washington): “Euphoric Trans/formations: Reveling in Change in Trans Poetry and Prose”


P9: Who Am I?: Evolving Identities 
Chair: Caroline Rody, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English
Zoom Host: Cherrie (

– Katie Campbell (UVA), “Modeling Post-War Identity in Hanan al-Shaykh’s Beirut Blues”

– Brennan Lawler (University of Illinois at Chicago), “Of Politics and Pleasure: Queer Utopia in Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox

– Becky S. Friedman (University of Massachusetts, Amherst): “The Evolving Jew of the English Imagination”

– Francis Ittenbach (Emory), “‘Where the people are more than a crowd’: The Metropolitan Identity of Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal

P10: Re-reading The Dis/abled Body
Chair: Christopher Krentz, Associate Professor at Department of English and the American Sign Language Program, and Director of the UVA Disability Studies Initiative
Zoom Host: Justin (

– Safiya Karmy-Jones (UW), “Rereading Jason Voorhees: Disability Studies, Horror, and The Return of Repressed”

– Robin J. Johnson (University of Texas at San Antonio), “Addiction Metaphors: God-like and War Metaphors in Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec Reduce Stigma and Improve Narrative Medicine”

-Rachael Nebraska Lynch (GWU), “Normative Transformations: Disability, Normativity, and Able-Gendered Whiteness in Bryan Forbes’ The Stepford Wives

P11: Forms of Black Protest
Chair: TBD
Zoom Host: John (

– Eyal Handelsman Katz (UVA), “Resisting Consumption/Consumption as Resistance in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

– Anna Allen (Georgia) “Transforming Black Trauma in Contemporary America”

– Lexxus Edison (UC Santa Barbara), “(Re)Conceptualizing the Black Autobiography”

– Nicholas Joseph (UC Irvine), “Changing Sames”: Amiri Baraka and the Serial Poetics of Passing”

Masterclass: “Poetry, (Un)Translatability, and World Literature”
Zoom Host: Cherrie (
– Jahan Ramazani
, University Professor and Edgar E. Shannon Professor, Department of English

Zoom Host: John (
Farewell Happy Hour


We warmly thank the following departments and institutions for their support for this conference, especially at a time that has been so challenging for all of us. This conference has only been possible thanks to their generosity.

-UVA Libraries
– The Jefferson Trust, an initiative of the UVA Alumni Association
– Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures (IHGC)
– New Literary History
– Department of English
– Department of French Language and Literature
– Department of Philosophy
– Center for Poetry and Poetics
– Virginia Center for the Study of Religion (VCSR)
– Department of Classics

Organizing Committee

Fall 2020

Co-Chairs: Cherrie Kwok and John Modica
Abstracts Chair: Alexandra Kennedy
Budget Chair: Justin Stec
Publicity Chair: Matt Martello

Spring 2020

Co-Chairs: Cherrie Kwok and John Modica
Abstracts Chair: Alexandra Kennedy
Budget Chair: Justin Stec
Program Management Chair: Elise Foote
Publicity Chair: Matt Martello

Katie Campbell
Katherine Churchill
Eyal Handelsman
Evan Henry
Zoe Kempf-Harris
Hannah Loeb
Annyston Penningston
Kate Shaffer
Tarushi Sonthalia
Wataru Tachikawa
Anna Wingfield