The 2013 Autumn Lecture Series: 50 Years Since 1963

Last Tuesday saw the finale of our 2013 Autumn Lecture Series on American Life and Culture. This year’s Autumn Lecture Series was hosted in partnership with the School of American Studies at the University of East Anglia. Like the Memorial Library, the University of East Anglia celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2013.

2013 Marks 50  years since Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington and his iconic, 'I Have a Dream Speech.'

2013 Marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and his iconic ‘I Have a Dream Speech.’

For our neighbors across the pond, 2013 also marked the 50th anniversary for many seminal events in American history, many of which continue to have lasting implications for American life, culture and politics today. For this reason, this year’s Autumn Lecture Series was dedicated to the year 1963.

As we learned from our series, 1963 saw the publication of some very influential and groundbreaking books: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—often credited with helping to launch the contemporary American environmental movement, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique—often credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the U.S.  1963 also witnessed the very first publication of prolific American author, Joyce Carol Oates—who has now published over 40 novels in addition to several plays, short stories, poetry and nonfiction. Perhaps to the memory of some, 1963 also observed the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Pushing beyond the borders of the United States, this year’s Autumn Lecture Series incorporated discussions on the Americas more widely. Dr. Wendy McMahon’s lecture on the Latin American literary boom and David McCarthy’s presentation on the Vancouver Poetry Conference encouraged us to reconsider the way we conceptualize America and to think more broadly about the North American continent. McMahon captures this nicely in her title, ‘What is American Literature Anyway?: 1963 and the Latin American Literary Boom’.

Below you can find a brief synopsis of each of the lectures. We hope that this encourages you to come along to the next Autumn Lecture Series, all of which are FREE to attend. A huge thank you to all the speakers who dedicated their time, knowledge and passion and for sharing them with us; a special thank you to Dr. Hilary Emmett from UEA’s School of American Studies for helping to organize, manage and promote the event and, finally, a thanks to all the members of the public who came to the lectures. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. See you next time!

Where you going

‘Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?’: The Writing of Joyce Carol Oates by Dr. Rachel McLennan

In our very first lecture of the series, Dr. Rachel McLennan walked us through some of Oates’s most formative work with specific emphasis on Oates’s short story, ’ Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?’. The lecture proved both a great starting point for readers unfamiliar with Oates’s work as both the speaker and more veteran readers were eager to share their top picks. It was also a good opportunity for more familiarized readers to engage more vigorously with Oates’s wider collection and personal history.

book jacketThe JFK Assassination and the Culture of Conspiracy by Joseph Broadbent

In our second lecture, UEA postgraduate student Joseph Broadbent used the Kennedy Assassination as a departure point for examining why people are drawn toward conspiracy theories, why some are more socially acceptable than others and whether conspiracy culture is part of the American culture. According to Broadbent’s lecture, conspiracy theories arise from humans’ desire to make sense of the world: to see patterns and logic in the seemingly inexplicable. The contested theories about what happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963 have made the Kennedy assassination one of the greatest and most famous American mysteries of all time.

Carson Silent Spring 1000Fifty Years of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring by Dr. Rebecca Tillett and Dr. Nick Selby

In their lecture on Silent Spring, Dr. Rebecca Tillett and Dr. Nick Selby helped the audience look back to the ways in which and reasons why Carson’s work was criticized upon its initial publication and why, fifty years on, it is credited with inspiring widespread public concern over the use of pesticides and pollution of the environment. In 1972 Silent Spring helped facilitate the ban of a specific pesticide for agricultural use in the U.S.

0220_feminine-mystique‘Pulling the Trigger on History’?: The Feminine Mystique Fifty Years On by Dr. Hilary Emmett and Dr. Becky Fraser

 Before Emmett and Fraser explored the reception history of Friedan’s work they guided the audience through what Friedan was trying to capture in writing in The Feminine Mystique. Emmett and Fraser then considered whether The Feminine Mystique was as radical as it is often credited with and used contemporary examples from both American and British popular culture to consider what issues The Feminine Mystique might have addressed had it been written today with an emphasis on gender equality and the use of images in 21st century visual culture.

‘What is American Literature Anyway?: 1963 and the Latin American Literary Boom’ by Dr. Wendy McMahon


Julio Cortázar- Argentine novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

In our penultimate lecture, Dr. Wendy McMahon challenged us to think outside the confines of the U.S. border when considering ‘American’ literature. Her lecture focused on the Latin American literary boom—a flourishing of literature, poetry and criticism in Latin American during the 1960s and 1970s. In the midst of the Cold War—which we learned many of these writers referred to as the Hot War—writers from Latin America explored new ideas and came to international renown in a way that had not happened previously. If you’re interested in exploring this further, major figures of the boom include Julio CortázarGabriel García MárquezCarlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.

at the vancouver poetry‘What Does Not Change/Is the Will to Change’: The Vancouver Poetry Conference of 1963 by David McCarthy

 Bringing our 2013 Autumn Lecture Series to a close, postgraduate research student David McCarthy addressed the one of the most seminal events in modern American poetry, the Vancouver Poetry Conference of 1963. In assessing the continuing legacies of the Vancouver Poetry Conference, McCarthy’s lecture contextualized the Vancouver Poetry Conference amongst the dominant trends in American poetry of the period and considered its significance in the establishment of a counter-tradition of innovation that resisted the Cold War ideologies of containment and consensus.

If you would like to learn more about any of these topics please come visit us in the Memorial Library and we would be happy to get you started. Alternatively, you can browse the Library catalogue here:

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Filed under American Culture, Books, Local Interest, Memorial Library, Public Events

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