British Association for American Studies


60 Seconds With Katharina Donn

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. 

This month we’re taking time out of our usual publishing schedule to invite you to spend 60 seconds with the new members of the U.S. Studies Online editorial team and BAAS Executive Committee. Our first interviews will be with the new Co-Editors and Assistant Editors of USSO.


portrait photo 2Where are you right now?

I’m in the visiting research fellows’ office at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies.

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

The opening of the Armory Show in 1913.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

David Bowie for the music, Mina Loy, Claude McKay, Emily Dickinson (she deserves a little bit of fun) and Lyn Hejinian for some sophisticated elegance– it’s ok to invite dead people, right?

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

I’m assuming I knew about the shipwreck that would get me stranded there because I correctly deciphered a hidden code somewhere in Thomas Pynchon’s texts. So I’d stick with that and bring Gravity’s Rainbow.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Being awarded a PhD fellowship by the ‘Studienstiftung’, the German National Academic Foundation – it was the first step that got me going in academia, all that followed built on that.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

I’m one myself, so I’m not sure I’m in the best position to give advice! Get yourself out there, publish, delete emails which politely reject your applications immediately so they can’t come back to haunt you (unless they offer feedback!), approach research as a process of failing better and better until you’ve got that brilliant proposal nailed, and be creative about career planning – it’s not plannable anyway.

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

Developing a European perspective for USSO of course, and working with the amazing people on the team here! And I’ll spend the summer teaching at the University of Texas at Austin – I can’t wait for the sunshine!

How did you come to your current area of research?

I’m in this borderline position between two projects – I just sent the manuscript for my book on post-9/11 trauma literature to my editor. Now I’m looking to develop a new project in modernist/mid-20th century literature, thinking about why philosophers and theorists choose to write in surprisingly literary, metaphoric, expressionistic ways when they respond to major upheavals. This is going to be a transatlantic project and will hopefully get me closer to defining the relation between literature and the experience of cognition. I actually can’t say how I come to my areas of research, it seems to happen quite serendipitously – although I do seem to have a liking for moments of crisis.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

I’ve worked in secondary education as well, so that’s always an option, I’m also getting more and more interested in literary translation – I’ll make it up as I go along.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

2 days! I’ve only just started!