Dr Andrew van der Vlies, BA MA (Rhodes) MPhil DPhil (Oxford)
I grew up in South Africa: I was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape, and read English and Law as an undergraduate at Rhodes University in nearby Grahamstown, before completing an MA in American literature there. I came to the UK as a Commonwealth Scholar to read for the erstwhile MPhil in English Literature (1880-present) at Oxford University, where I subsequently wrote a DPhil dissertation, supervised by Peter D. McDonald, on the development of the idea of a ‘South African’ literary tradition, 1883-1979. This produced material that formed the basis of a book (I brought the case studies up to the present), published in 2007 as South African Textual Cultures. My first teaching post was a Lectureship at the University of Sheffield (2005-09). I joined Queen Mary in January 2010. I am a dual British and South African citizen and continue to have strong links to and family in South Africa, travelling, undertaking research, and giving papers there frequently.
While I am currently on research leave funded by the Leverhulme Trust (through September 2014), in a normal year my teaching is focused on contemporary and world literatures (though I occasionally teach on the Modernism module), with a focus on postcolonial studies and on gender and sexuality. Some modules are directly related to my research: I teach a third-year module on postapartheid South African literature; at MA level, depending on the year, I lead seminars on contemporary African literatures or on J. M. Coetzee. Modules include:
- Contemporary world literatures in English
- South African literatures (esp. in English and Afrikaans), cultural studies, film, and visual art
- Postcolonial print cultures, book history, literature and globalization
- Queer theory, especially queer postcolonial studies
- Affect studies; hope, disappointment, nostalgia
Recent and On-Going Research
My first book, South African Textual Cultures (Manchester UP, 2007; Wits UP, 2011), considered the construction of the idea of an anglophone ‘South African’ literature through a series of case studies of the publication and reception histories of authors from Olive Schreiner, Alan Paton, and Alex La Guma to J.M. Coetzee and Zakes Mda. Laura Chrisman called it ‘a pathbreaking book’ (SHARP News 18.4 [August 2009]: 19) and the Journal of Southern African Studies described it as 'a significant addition to the field of postcolonial studies’, 'a model of scholarly rigour [that] will, one hopes, beget similar projects in other postcolonial contexts' (35.2 [June 2009], 525-26). I continue to write about African and South African print cultures (an edited reader on Print, Text and Book Cultures in South Africa was published by Wits University Press in 2012). My principal current interest is in writing from South Africa during the past three decades, and I have published on writers including J.M. Coetzee (a short book—Continuum, 2010—on his 1999 novel Disgrace), Nadine Gordimer, and Zoë Wicomb. I have co-edited special issues of journals on South Africa and the global mediascape, and on Wicomb and transnationalism. Recent and forthcoming work includes contributions to the Oxford Companion to the Book (2010), Cambridge History of South African Literature (2012), Oxford History of the Novel in English, and an MLA essay collection on Coetzee (both forthcoming). I have also published on queer politics and performance in contemporary South African art, and on the idea of the archive in post-apartheid literature. In 2013-14 I am on Leverhulme Trust-funded leave to write a book about disappointment in contemporary South African literature and culture, and co-edit a collection of essays on banality and futurity in contemporary writing from Southern Africa.
2010. J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace. London & New York: Continuum. See more information here.
Selected recent essays and chapters:
2013. 'Art as Archive: Queer Activism and Contemporary South African Visual Cultures'. Kunapipi: Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 34.1, 94-116.
2013. 'The People, the Multitude, and the Costs of Privacy in South Africa's Postcolony'. Cultural Studies 27.3, 496-518. doi:
2013. '"I'm only grateful that it's not a Cape Town book", or Zoë Wicomb, textuality, propriety, and the proprietary'. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 48:1, 9-25.
2012. 'Queer Knowledge and the Politics of the Gaze in Contemporary South African Photography: Zanele Muholi and others'. Journal of African Cultural Studies 24:2, 140-56.
2012. 'Print, Text, and Books in South Africa'. In Print, Text, and Book Cultures in South Africa. Ed. Andrew van der Vlies. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. 2-48.
2012. 'In--or From--the Heart of the Country: Local and Global Lives of Coetzee's Antipastoral'. In Print, Text, and Book Cultures in South Africa. Ed. Andrew van der Vlies. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. 166-94.
2012. 'South Africa in the Global Imaginary'. In The Cambridge History of South African Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge and David Attwell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 697-716.
2011. ‘Zoë Wicomb's Queer Cosmopolitanisms’. Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies 12:3-4, 425-444.
2011. 'An Interview with Mark Behr'. Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies 12:1, 1-26. doi:10.1080/17533171.2011.533910
2010. ‘July's People in Context: Apartheid’s dystopias abroad’. In Nadine Gordimer's July's People. Ed. Brendon Nicholls. London: Routledge. 115-30.
2010. ‘The Archive, the Spectral, and Narrative Responsibility in Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light (2006)’. Journal of Southern African Studies 36:3, 583-98.
2010. ‘The History of the Book in Sub-Saharan Africa’. In The Oxford Companion to the Book. Gen. eds. Henry Woudhuysen and Michael Suarez. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 313-20.
2008. ‘An Interview with Jeremy Cronin, Conducted by Andrew van der Vlies’. With introduction. Contemporary Literature 49:4, 514-39.
2008. ‘On the Ambiguities of Narrative and of History: Writing (about) the past in recent South African literary criticism’. Journal of Southern African Studies 34:4, 949-961. doi:10.1080/03057070802456870
2008. ‘Outside the Nation(al): “South African” print and book cultures, and global “text-scapes”’. In Books Without Borders. 2 vols. Ed. Mary Hammond and Robert Fraser. Vol. 1: The Cross-National Dimension in Print Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave. 173-85.
2007. ‘Reading Banned Books: Apartheid Censors and Anti-Apartheid Aesthetics’. Wasafiri 22:3, 55-61.
2007. ‘Transnational Print Cultures: Books, -scapes, and the textual Atlantic’. Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies 8:1, 45-55.
2002. 'The Editorial Empire: The Fiction of “Greater Britain”, and the Early Readers of Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm', TEXT: An Inter-disciplinary Annual of Textual Studies 15, 237-260.
I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research. Current research students are working on children in African literature, gender and South African writing, South African representations of London, and J. M. Coetzee and narratology.
I have been a regular reviewer of African and South African material for the Times Literary Supplement, where I have published on Nadine Gordimer (3 December 2010), Chinua Achebe (2 April 2010), Wole Soyinka (17 August 2007), Ngugi wa Thiong'o (20 October 2006), and J.M. Coetzee (2 September 2005), amongst others. I have also published in the leading South African fine arts journal Art South Africa and in the British Independent newspaper, and appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Open Book’ and at literary festivals in London and Cape Town. I am an editor of Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, a Routledge journal, and I serve on the editorial boards of the Journal of Southern African Studies and Scrutiny2: Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa.