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Dr Andrew van der Vlies, BA MA (Rhodes) MPhil DPhil (Oxford)

Reader in Global Anglophone Literature and Theory



Andrew van der Vlies

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 between 1883 and 1979, based on a series of case studies. I brought these up to the present for the revision of the thesis that formed the basis of my first book, South African Textual Cultures (2007). I have recently completed my second monograph, a study of affect and temporality in postapartheid fiction, entitled Present Imperfect. My first teaching post was at the University of Sheffield; I joined Queen Mary University of London in January 2010. I am (now) a dual British and South African citizen and continue to have strong links to and family in South Africa, where I travel, undertake research, work collaboratively with South Africa-based colleagues, and give papers frequently. I hold the honorary position of Extraordinary Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of the Western Cape.


My teaching is focused on twentieth-century and contemporary literatures, with a focus on postcolonial and global writing and cultural production, and on gender and sexuality. Some modules are directly informed by my research: I teach a third-year module on South African literature; at MA level, depending on the year, I lead seminars on contemporary African literatures and cultural production, or on the work of J. M. Coetzee. 

Undergraduate teaching:

In the 2016-17 academic year, I am teaching on:

Postgraduate teaching:

In the 2016-17 academic year, I am teaching on:


Research interests:

  • Contemporary world literatures in English, literature and globalization, the novel
  • South African writing (in English and Afrikaans), performance, film, cultural studies, and visual art
  • Postcolonial print cultures, book history, translation, and archives
  • Queer theory, especially queer postcolonial studies
  • Affect studies; hope, disappointment, boredom, nostalgia

Recent and ongoing 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. Rita Barnard called it ‘the first major study to question the very category of “South African literature” and to describe the process of its construction in a sustained, engaging, theoretically astute manner’. Laura Chrisman described it as ‘a pathbreaking book’ (in SHARP News 18.4, August 2009), while the Journal of Southern African Studies reviewer suggested that its ‘model of scholarly rigour’ provided a prospectus for ‘similar projects in other postcolonial contexts’ (35.2, June 2009). I continue to write about and facilitate work on African and South African print cultures: Wits University Press published my edited reader, Print, Text and Book Cultures in South Africa, in 2012. My current principal interest is in writing from South Africa during the past three decades: I have published on writers including J.M. Coetzee (a short book—Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2010—on his 1999 novel Disgrace), Nadine Gordimer, and Zoë Wicomb, and have co-edited special issues of journals on South Africa and the global mediascape and on Wicomb and transnationalism. Recent work includes contributions to the Oxford Companion to the Book (2010), Cambridge History of South African Literature (2012), an MLA essay collection on Coetzee (2014), and a chapter on ‘The Novel and Apartheid’ for the Oxford History of the Novel in English volume on Africa and the Atlantic World (2016). 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. I spent the 2013-14 year on research leave funded by the Leverhulme Trust to work on a monograph about disappointment in contemporary South African literature, and held a Mellon-funded Research Fellowship at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin in July 2015, in preparation for future work on Coetzee and on literatures of ‘return’. Other current and future projects include co-edited collections of essays on literatures of ‘transition’ in South Africa, and on comedy and the grotesque in South African writing, as well as scholarly editions of work by two South African authors. I am currently co-investigator on a British Academy-funded project on orature, performance, and the archive in South Africa.



2012. (ed.) Print, Text & Book Cultures in South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. See more information here, and read the introduction online here.

2010. J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace. London & New York: Continuum [Bloomsbury]. See more information here.

2007. South African Textual Cultures: White, Black, Read All Over. Manchester: Manchester University Press. (Paperback March 2011.) For more information, see here and here.

Selected recent essays and chapters:

2015. ‘“MêME DYING STOP CONFIRM ARRIVAL STOP”: Provincial Literatures in Global Time: The Case of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat’. In Institutions of World Literature: Writing, Translation, Markets. Ed. Pieter Vermeulen and Stefan Helgesson. London & New York: Routledge. 191-208.

2014. ‘“[From] whom this writing then?”: Politics, Aesthetics and the Personal in Coetzee’s Age of Iron’. In Approaches to Teaching Coetzee’s Disgrace and Other Works. Ed. Laura Wright, Elleke Boehmer, Jane Poyner. New York: The Modern Language Association of America. 96-104.

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.

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.

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. Ed. Henry Woudhuysen and Michael Suarez. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 313-20. 

2008. ‘An Interview with Jeremy Cronin, Conducted by Andrew van der Vlies’. 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.

2008. ‘Outside the Nation(al): “South African” print and book cultures, and global “text-scapes”’. In Books Without Borders. Vol. 1: The Cross-National Dimension in Print Culture. Ed. Mary Hammond and Robert Fraser. 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.

See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile


PhD Supervision

I welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of my research areas. Current research students are working on children in African literature, masculinity in postapartheid South African fiction, South African representations of London, and J. M. Coetzee, ethics, and narratology.

Public engagement

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 many 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’ programme 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.

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