Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


VIRTUAL IAS Festival: The Politics of Fiction: Three years of reading Political Fiction at UCL

04 May 2021, 1:00 pm–2:30 pm

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Panel discussion with Mark Ford, Matthew Sperling and Xine Yao.

This event is free.

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Politics is implicit in all writing, fictional and not. However, if novelists and short-story writers bring explicitly political issues to the fore in their work, they are at risk of writing manifestos or tracts, or tying their narrative to too narrow a set of concerns. How can a writer ask political questions, or, even harder, try to explore some answers, without stamping all over their story? Is the political novel a tautology, or an oxymoron? The judges of the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction are asked to consider these questions while reading dozens of novels in their pursuit to find the work of fiction which best, in George Orwell's phrase, turns 'political writing into an art'. Current judge Mark Ford will be hoping to get some guidance on the above from former judges Matthew Sperling and Xine Yao, as the three of them will explore how fiction writers and publishers handle politics in this event.

Names of Participants: Mark Ford, Matthew Sperling and Xine Yao.

This talk forms part of the IAS five-year anniversary festival on the theme of ‘Alternative Epistemologies’.

All welcome. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need assistance on the day, and follow this FAQ link for more information and to read our virtual events code of conduct. All of our events are free, but you can support the IAS here.

About the Speakers

Mark Ford

Professor of English Literature at UCL

Mark Ford is a professor in the English Department at University College London. He is the author of monographs on Raymond Roussel and Thomas Hardy, and of three collections of essays, the most recent of which, This Dialogue of One, was awarded The Poetry Foundation’s 2015 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. He is the editor of London: A History in Verse, as well as of the first two volumes of the Library of America Collected Poems of John Ashbery. His own collections of poetry include Landlocked (1992), Soft Sift (2001), Six Children (2011) and Enter, Fleeing (2018).

More about Mark Ford

Matthew Sperling

Lecturer, Department of English at UCL

Matthew Sperling lives in London and is a lecturer in English Literature at UCL. His writing has been published in The Guardian, the New Statesman, 1983, Prospect, 3:AM, The Junket and Best British Short Stories 2015. His debut novel, Astroturf, was longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2019. His most recent novel is Viral, published September 2020.

More about Matthew Sperling

Christine “Xine” Yao

Lecturer in American Literature in English to 1900 at UCL

Christine “Xine” Yao is Lecturer in American Literature to 1900 in the English department at University College London. She works on intersections of affect, race, gender and sexuality in relation to science and law through long 19th century American literature. Her research has been published in American Quarterly, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Occasion and American Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion and has several essays forthcoming in collections. Her book 'Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth Century America' is forthcoming with Duke University Press.

More about Christine “Xine” Yao