British Association for American Studies


60 Seconds With Iain Williams

The U.S. Studies Online 60 Seconds interview feature offers a short and informal introduction to a postgraduate, academic or non-academic specialist working in the American and Canadian Studies field or a related American and Canadian Studies association. 

Last month you spent 60 seconds with the Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies, our parent organisation, and before that the lovely (ahem) U. S. Studies Online Editorial team. For the remainder of the summer we have invited our first contributors to tell us a little bit more about themselves, the moment they decided “this is the path for me,” and what keeps them going all these years –or months– later. 


Where are you right now?

On the couch in the living room of my flat, where I do most of my reading.

If you could time-travel to observe one moment in the history of America, where would you go?

So many possibilities! I think I’d have to travel back a couple of hundred years and visit Yosemite Valley, without having seen it in photographs first. That would be pretty special. Failing that, Hill Valley in 1955 to see Marty McFly play ‘Johnny B. Goode’ for the first time.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Again, too many possibilities! Frederick Douglass, Sacagawea, Mary Shelley, and Thoreau. Joan Jett, Jack Kerouac and Jack London would keep things lively. Pynchon just to see what he looks like. Robert Johnson to provide the music. Keith Floyd to cook.

You’re stranded on a desert island, but luckily you pre-empted it. Which book do you take with you?

Should you not be allowed seven as with Desert Island discs!? An extremely difficult choice but probably Labyrinths by Borges. Or Frankenstein. Or Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Or….

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Definitely getting an article accepted for publication in a journal. I shouted out loud when I got the email, even though I was home alone.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to give any!

What is the most exciting thing you have planned in the next six months?

I’m especially looking forward to teaching two classes in September.

How did you come to your current area of research?

I’m not entirely sure! Although I do remember picking up an issue of The Atlantic in 2007 and getting my first taste of David Foster Wallace’s writing style and footnotes.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

The most satisfaction (and fun) I’ve had working was labouring for a friend’s gardening/tree surgery business; it’s quite a change from academia but something like that would be great!

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four; Derrida’s Specters of Marx; Wallace’s history of infinite, Everything and More.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

Orwell – about a week, as I’m re-reading it for background research at the moment. Derrida – only one day as it arrived in the post yesterday! Wallace – about two years. I occasionally dip into it but it is hard going. Great for sending you to sleep!

What’s in your fridge right now?

It’s quite empty as we need to go shopping! Milk, eggs, mayonnaise, about three different kinds of mustard, chicken, spinach, broccoli, carrots, peppers, chillies, ginger, garlic, a bottle of nice ale, white wine, tonic. Soon to be less as I’m about to make lunch….

About the Author

Iain Williams is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on David Foster Wallace and how his work engages with notions of sincerity and authenticity. He holds an MA (Hons) in American Studies and an MSc in U.S. Literature, both from Edinburgh. An article on Wallace is forthcoming in the journal Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction.

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