Dr Ellen McWilliams
My research interests are in the fields of twentieth-century women's writing, Irish, British, and North American literature, transatlantic literary studies, migration, and diasporic identity.
I have written three books, Margaret Atwood and the Female Bildungsroman (2009), Women and Exile in Contemporary Irish Fiction (2013), and Irishness in North American Women's Writing: Transatlantic Affinities (2021).
I am working on a new book, Writing the English: Reading England in Irish Literature and Culture.
I am interested in the ethics and difficulty of writing about decolonisation and anti-colonial history from the perspective of lived experience and in ways that escape the well-intendended, but sometimes harmful and co-optive cul de sacs of academic abstraction and speculation.
I have a special interest in New York magazine culture and recently published four essays on Maeve Brennan's writing for The New Yorker, including '"A Sort of Rathmines Version of a Dior Design": Maeve Brennan, Self-Fashioning, and the Uses of Style' for Women: A Cultural Review and an article on Brennan's years at Harper's Bazaar, 'Maeve Brennan, Celebrity, and Harper's Bazaar in the 1940s'.
I have received a number of awards for research, including an AHRC Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholar Award, and a British Library-Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship in North American Studies.
I contributed to an RTE Radio 1 Book Show programme dedicated to the life and work of Maeve Brennan and in 2017 coordinated a series on Women Writers and Irish America for The Irish Times to celebrate the centenary of Brennan's birth. I was also one of the academic consultants for, and appeared in, the BBC1 documentary 'Imagine... Margaret Atwood' (directed by Katy Homan and presented by Alan Yentob).
My teaching at Exeter focuses on Transatlantic Literary Relations, American Literature, and Irish Literature.
I was the first in my family to go to university and have been committed to widening access to Higher Education and to teaching in community settings since the beginning of my academic career.
My Office Hours for this term fall on Monday -- you are welcome to sign up for a meeting here
I have research interests in twentieth-century women's writing, Irish, British and North American literature, writing and diasporic identity, and transatlantic literary relations. I have also published on life writing, self-fashioning, New York magazine culture, and James Joyce and influence.
My first book, Margaret Atwood and the Female Bildungsroman, was published in 2009. It received the Margaret Atwood Society Award for Best Book in that year and was reviewed in The European Journal of American Culture, The Review of English Studies, The Journal of American Studies, Contemporary Women’s Writing, The European Legacy, The Routledge Bibliography of English Studies, The Year's Work in English Studies, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, and Études Anglaises.
My second book, Women and Exile in Contemporary Irish Fiction, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013 and was reviewed in The Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought, Irish Studies Review, Irish University Review, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, The Irish Review, and The London Irish Feminist Network Newsletter. An early review of the book concluded: ‘McWilliams makes a major contribution to the study of contemporary Irish fiction as well as to the study of the Irish diaspora. Although this is certainly a scholarly book and McWilliams shows a broad and deep understanding of an enormous range of scholarly and theoretical texts, her writing is so direct and clear and her arguments so carefully made that this work will be of interest to and readable by many people outside of the field of literary study… In short, McWilliams gave me a new way of thinking about this fiction, which is exactly what we hope for when we begin reading a scholarly work but all too seldom find’ (Professor Maureen Reddy, Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought).
My third book was published in 2021. Professor Anne Fogarty (University College Dublin) described it as ‘a lively, thought-provoking, engrossing, and eminently readable study of cross-connections in North American women’s writing. Irishness in North American Women’s Writing: Transatlantic Affinities is a timely, original, and richly observant study of six diverse women writers and a valuable intervention in the field of transatlantic studies’.
I am a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Margaret Atwood Studies and Irish Studies Review and am a reader and reviewer for Women: A Cultural Review, Contemporary Women’s Writing, Journal of Gender Studies, Irish Studies Review, Irish University Review, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, and Canadian Literature.
Awards for Research
Fulbright Scholar Award in the Humanities; AHRC Fellowship; John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies Visiting Fellowship - Free University of Berlin; University of Notre Dame Cushwa Centre for Irish-American Studies Research Award; Fulbright Occasional Lecturer Bursary; Boston College Institute for the Liberal Arts Bursary; Institute of English Studies Visiting Fellowship, School of Advanced Studies, University of London; Clinton Institute for American Studies Visiting Fellowship, University College Dublin; Moore Institute Visiting Fellowship, NUI Galway (2012 & 2015); Margaret Atwood Society Award for Margaret Atwood and the Female Bildungsroman; British Library-Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship in North American Studies; Canadian High Commission Faculty Research Award; International Council for Canadian Studies Fellowship.
I have participated in a number of programmes funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, including the AHRC Engaging with Government Programme (Institute of Government, 2013) and the AHRC Leadership Programme (Clore Duffield Foundation, 2012). I am a member of the Fulbright Ireland Research Mentoring Network.
Lead Supervisor - Kate Limond, '"Mocked with Art": Strategies of Representation in A.S. Byatt’s Fiction'
External impact and engagement
I have been active in widening participation and teaching in community settings since the beginning of my academic career. I established the Access to English scheme at the University of Bristol (2003) and the University of Exeter Scholars in English programme (2013).
As a PhD student and Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol, I developed a number of lifelong learning programmes on nineteenth- and twentieth-century women’s writing to coincide with BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Watershed Fiction project.
More recently, I have developed a series of outreach and community projects that involved working with community groups, agencies, and research initiatives concerned with the welfare of Irish elders in Britain and the United States, including: the Federation of Irish Societies, the London Irish Women’s Centre, the Aisling Irish Community Centre in New York, and the Gallagher Initiative (Coordinators: Professor Elaine Walsh, Hunter College, CUNY, and Professor Brenda McGowan, Fordham University).
In addition to funding research towards the monograph Women and Exile in Contemporary Irish Fiction, my AHRC Fellowship (2011-2012) supported a conference on 'New Perspectives on Women and the Irish Diaspora' (March 2012), which included a roundtable discussion with charity-based organisations that work closely with the Irish community in Britain. Proceedings of the conference were published as a special issue of Irish Studies Review in 2013 (co-edited with Professor Bronwen Walter, Anglia Ruskin University).
The AHRC also provided funding for a seminar series on 'Women and Exile in Irish Literature and Culture' that I developed in collaboration with the London Irish Women’s Centre in autumn-winter 2011. The seminar series led to the Rian Art Project coordinated by artist Sarah Strong in 2012 and was one of the subjects of Sarah's short film 'I Hear Fish Drowning' (2014).
While on a Fulbright Scholarship to Fordham University in New York in 2012, I developed a lifelong learning reading group project in collaboration with the Institute of Irish Studies at Fordham and the Aisling Irish Community Centre in Woodlawn.
I have written for The Irish Post and served as an academic consultant for the Federation of Irish Societies, as well as contributing to research for the documentary Breaking Ground: The Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre (Toy Factory Films, 2013). In 2013 I contributed to an RTE Radio 1 Book Show programme dedicated to the life and work of New York writer Maeve Brennan and in 2017 coordinated a series on Women Writers and Irish America for The Irish Times to celebrate the centenary of Brennan's birth (fellow contributors included Angela Bourke, Claire Bracken, Patricia Coughlan, and Sinéad Moynihan).
I was one of the academic consultants for, and appeared in, the 2017 BBC1 documentary 'Imagine... Margaret Atwood' (directed by Katy Homan and presented by Alan Yentob).
I have received a number of awards for teaching including a Faculty of Arts Teaching Prize from the University of Bristol, a Bath Spa University Teaching Fellowship, and a University of Exeter Teaching Fellowship.
- EAS1040 - Academic English
- EAS2104 - Crossing the Water: Transatlantic Literary Relations
- EAS2112 - Empire of Liberty: American Literature, 1776 to Present
- EAS3226 - Modern Irish Literature
- EASM100 - The Cultures of American Modernism
- EASM153 - Beyond the Border: The Politics of Place in Contemporary North American Literature and Culture
I grew up in Ireland and went to the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, Co. Cork. I studied at University College Cork and was awarded a scholarship to the University of Constance. I received a National University of Ireland Travelling Prize in English before completing my PhD at the University of Bristol. Prior to being appointed at Exeter, I taught at the University of Bristol and Bath Spa University and spent time as a Fulbright Scholar at Fordham University in New York.