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Adrienne Mortimer

LAHRI Postdoctoral Research Fellow (May 2022 - May 2023)
Areas of expertise
US and British literature (1900 - present); Queer Theory; Histories of Reading, Literacy, and Non-Literacy
Clothworkers South Building, University of Leeds campus
Arts, Humanities, and Cultures
Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute

Orcid ID: 0000-0002-7750-1175

I completed my Ph.D. in English at the University of Leeds in December 2021, funded by the Neil Munro Scholarship (2017-2021). Prior to this, I received an M.St. in English 1900-Present from Mansfield College, University of Oxford (2017) and a BA (Hons) in English and American Literature and Culture from the University of Hull (2016).

My doctoral thesis investigates the representation of non-literacy in contemporary British and US fiction written after the late 1980s. I use the term ‘non-literacy’, rather than the value-laden ‘illiteracy’, to refer to fictional characters who do not possess the technical ability to read or write, but do engage in alternative kinds of knowledge production and reading. My principal argument is that non-literate narrative perspectives are able to bring into focus, and displace, literacy’s hegemonic status by defamiliarising ‘literate’ ways of knowing, reading, and seeing. In foregrounding the often overlooked perspectives of non-literate characters, throughout this work I offer a sustained critique of the assumption that literacy provides an unbiased access to knowledge and power. I ask, what kinds of access to power does literacy enable? And, how is that power challenged or reinforced by certain literary texts? The texts I explore in this thesis are Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith (2002), Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), and Ali Smith’s Like (1997).

I am currently writing two articles based on my doctoral work. The first explores representations of post-literacy in Smith’s Like and the second looks at Vuong’s negotiation of translation and the epistolary form in On Earth. In addition to this, I am developing a new project, borne out of my thesis, on the numerous ways in which the phenomenon of ‘post-literacy’ manifests in contemporary novels, from dystopian fiction to narratives of dementia.

Outside of my academic work, I maintain interests in queer heritage and history. I have written blog posts for the National Trust and Ashmolean Museum, conducted interviews for West Yorkshire Queer Stories, and most recently recorded a segment for the Ashmolean’s new online audio guide on an artefact in their Money Gallery: a $50 note stamped with the slogan ‘lesbian money’.