Literary Birds (CFP, 15th August; Conference, 11th-12th October)

The Literary Birds conference – which features keynote speaker Professor Simon Armitage – will celebrate encounters with birds, in all their myriad manifestations. Proposals for papers are due by 15th August, with the conference running 11th to 12th October in Durham Castle.

Was it, as the Grecian sings,
Birds were born the first of things,
Before the sun, before the wind,
Before the gods, before mankind,
Airy, ante-mundane throng-
Witness their unworldly song!
(Matthew Arnold, “Poor Mathias”)

Throughout human history, birds have occupied a significant ubiquity in our physical and psychological existence. Our deep, yet conflicted relationship with birds is reflected in their enduring presence in the literary imagination from ancient to recent times. Leonard Lutwack notes that their ‘familiarity and transcendence have given birds a wider range of meaning and symbol in literature than any other animal’ (Birds in Literature, 1994). Paradoxically, as the non-human animal world diminishes in an ever increasing industrialist, capitalist society, human technological sophistication deepens our appreciation of its subtleties and complexities. This challenges the human-centric notion of a hierarchy of beings, which in turn persuades us to reappraise our ethical relationships to, and uses of, bird species. Current debates in Animal Studies and Speciesism encourage radical reassessments of notions of the literary animal, with the bird, arguably the most prevalent animal in literature, relatively neglected. Concurrently, award-winning literary output, such as Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (2014), and Nicholas Royle’s collection of avian tales, Ornithology (2017), confirm that the literary bird is just as potent now as it was for the Grecian songster.

‘Literary Birds’ celebrates avian literary encounters in their myriad manifestations. We would be delighted to welcome the submission of abstracts for 20-minute papers from postgraduate researchers, early career researchers, and established academics, which address the role of the bird in literature from ancient to modern times. Topics may include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

  • Aspects of the literary bird, such as birdsong, feathers, flight, and nesting
  • Appraisals of and/or legacies of particular species of birds (e.g. the prevalence of the canary in nineteenth-century poetry and fiction)
  • Biblical, mythic, and folkloric birds
  • The bird in poetry and/or as poet
  • The bird and utopian and/or dystopian literature
  • The bird as gothic trope and/or the bird in ‘horror’ literature
  • Bird symbolism
  • The bird and gender politics
  • ‘Othered’ birds and avatars (e.g. the parrot in Wide Sargasso Sea and Treasure Island)
  • Film adaptations related to literary birds
  • Literary-visual intersections (e.g. bird illustrations and avian ekphrasis)
  • The prevalence of bird-related fiction titles
  • Bird ownership in literary circles
  • Literary birds in light of bird cultures, beliefs, and practices (e.g. hunting and eating, the emergence of pre-Darwinian natural histories, taxidermy, cabinet collections, bird ownership, and falconry)

Please send an abstract of 150-200 words, along with a brief biographical note (also 150-200 words), to the conference organisers, Professor Stephen Regan and Helena Habibi, by Wednesday 15 August 2018, to literarybirdsconference@gmail.com. We look forward to reading your abstracts.

For further information, see the conference website. Literary Birds is organised by the Centre for Poetry and Poetics, in conjunction with Durham Book Festival.

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