Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today

Conference/Symposium | October 13 – 15, 2017 every day | 9 a.m.-10 p.m. |  Wheeler Hall

 Department of English

Full details are at

Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today, will be held at UC Berkeley October 13-October 15, 2017. All events are free and open to the public.

Emerging in the late 1970s of San Francisco, New Narrative originated at the crossroads of an aesthetically and politically radical poetry scene and the new publics fostered by various social movements of the era, most notably Gay Liberation. New Narrative writing places a frank engagement with sexuality and the body at the center of its creative itineraries, and considers what roles writing can play in articulating and thus politicizing sensual experience and embodied knowledge. By directing attention to the social and political possibilities of fiction and narrative, New Narrative moves between genres as much as between voices and discrepant histories. The effect of such maneuvering was often to self-reflexively thematize the position of the narrator and the impulse to narrate as itself a category of visceral experience, in order to demonstrate the mutual imbrication of self and community. In this way, the writings of New Narrative are importantly in conversation with both contemporary forms of expressivist movement writing, and critiques of signification and the lyric. Today, the study of New Narrative is vital for understanding the history of Bay Area avant-garde literature, particularly in relation to other insurgent literary and artistic movements like Language Poetry, the Black Arts movement, and radical feminist poetics. New Narrative continues to exist in relation to broader national conversations regarding the relationship between writing and sexuality, and between literature and community. New Narrative writing poses the question of fiction’s relation to poetry and the other arts, and to illuminate the existence of writing communities constructed at a distance from the MFA “program era” or New York publishing centers.

The conference will provide the opportunity to reflect on the history of New Narrative, and to consider its legacy for the future. Spanning three days, the conference will include academic papers, readings and Poets Theater performances, film screenings, and exhibits of art and ephemera related to the New Narrative movement. We intend to foster a conversation that keeps questions about literary and social history open by generating new resources and programming for anyone interested in New Narrative writing.

Convened by Lyn Hejinian (Professor, Dept of English, University of California, Berkeley), Chris Chen (Professor, Dept of Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz), Daniel Benjamin (PhD student, University of California, Berkeley), and Eric Sneathen (PhD student, University of California, Santa Cruz).

With support from the UC Humanities Research Institute; Lyn Hejinian, John F. Hotchkis Professor of English; Robert Hass, Distinguished Professor in Poetry and Poetics; Charles Altieri, Rachael Anderson Stageberg Professor of English; Ian Duncan, Florence Green Bixby Chair of English; Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, Clyde and Evelyn Slusser Chair in English; Victoria Kahn, Katharine Bixby Hotchkis Chair in English; Jeffrey Knapp, Ida Mae and William J. Eggers, Jr. Chair in English; the Poetry and Poetics Colloquium, Department of English; and the Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Working Group.