60 Seconds With Antonia Mackay

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. 

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Where are you right now?

Sitting in my gorgeous Grade II listed cottage in Old Headington with my partner and two cats working on the final chapter for my upcoming publication… being an academic clearly isn’t all bad!

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

I would travel back to 1955 and attend the first reading of ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg at the Six Gallery. I would have sat next to Lawrence Ferlenghetti and discussed the publication of books at the City Lights Bookstore. Perhaps afterwards I would have persuaded Ginsberg to push for the publication of ‘Howl’ prior to the rather late publication in 1956. To have been part of the Beat Generation in any capacity would have been truly amazing – meeting and discussing life’s questions with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs would be forever mind altering.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Marilyn Monroe, Jean Baudrillard and John Cheever – what a wonderfully eclectic mix of personalities, pro and anti Americana and pop and high culture. The conversations would be out of this world floating between philosophy, film, fashion and literature – great combination!

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

I’ve been meaning to read Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch ever since it was recommended to me by Professor Jo Gill at the University of Exeter. At several thousand pages, it has unfortunately been put to the bottom of the upcoming teaching syllabus texts – but given an excuse to be able to read it all in one go in complete tranquility would be an extremely rare treat.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Receiving the Teaching Award at Oxford Brookes University for my lecturing and seminars in Critical Theory, European Modernism and Narratology – it was so incredibly unexpected and yet so desperately aspired to. Being handed the award in the company of graduating English students, some of whom I had taught since their first year, was truly one of the best feelings I’ve experienced in my career so far. It was such a privilege, and such a unique experience to be acknowledged for hard work by those whom I’ve tried to inspire, and not just my academic colleagues.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

To take as many opportunities as possible that come your way. When I started my academic career I was told it wasn’t enough to sit in a library all day every day for three years and expect to succeed – and that was possibly the best advice I ever received. Being a good academic is about getting information out there, getting people to listen, to read and to understand complex but interesting theories and ideas, and then, in turn, to inspire and enthuse those who share your passion. Producing a PhD thesis is only the beginning – it is of no use unless you can get others interested in it.

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

Teaching American Literature to second year undergraduates at Oxford Brookes and finally finishing my upcoming publication on Cold War identity and spaces. This is a new syllabus at Brookes, so I have the challenge of approaching it almost as though I were one of the students, and then attempting to take seemingly dry material and turning it into something exciting and different. That and finally seeing my years of research turn into a paperback book and stocked in Blackwells. Both are of equal value to me.

How did you come to your current area of research?

When I started my Masters dissertation, I was already writing papers for a module on American Literature which I had found incredibly stimulating. I decided to write down a list of all the books I had read in my lifetime that I had found most enjoyable and the list strangely emerged as one featuring almost exclusively Cold War writers. From here I wrote my MA dissertation on the literature of the 1950s, and having completed it, realised how much more there was to say. Everything I had read merely stated how suburban women were domesticated and city men were ‘organised’ but nothing seemed to reach for a theory as to why – and so began my PhD research. When I completed my PhD two years ago, I still felt there were geographical areas and texts unused, and hence my book proposal was born. Despite working in the area of postwar literature and identity for the best part of 5 years, it still manages to excite and perplex me.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

I used to be a fashion journalist and worked for Vogue and GQ magazines for a few years – it was an exciting time when in your early twenties and I certainly had some very unique experiences at parties with famous celebrities, glamorous gowns and elegant functions; but when I found myself writing about confessional poetry when at work merely for my own enjoyment, I realised the  initial novelty of writing about shoes, debutantes and beauty products had worn thin and I applied for University once again. However, I have often considered the idea of returning to the fashion world with new literary proficiency, but that has often been quenched merely by buying a copy of Vogue and indulging my love of clothes before returning to teach a seminar.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans – it’s the last text for my final book chapter. It’s been years since I read Kerouac and just reading it makes me feel young(er) again.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

A day – I have just returned from a holiday in Ireland where we had no television and no internet – needless to say, it was the best thing that could have happened for my research, resulting in the completion of four texts in a week. It’s amazing how intrusive technology can be… there might be another paper in there…

Whats in your fridge right now?

Strawberries, blueberries, celery, hummus, soya milk, orange juice, cooked chicken and caesar salad – my partner and I discovered both ’99’s’ and Irish Dairy Milk on holiday resulting in the need for some fresh and healthy foods… I give it a few days before the pizzas and cheese make a reappearance.

About Antonia Mackay

After receiving her English degree, Antonia worked as a fashion journalist before returning to academia, where she completed an MA and PhD in American Literature. Since 2011 she has been an Associate Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University as well as a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. In recent months Antonia received the teaching award at Oxford Brookes and is currently working on her first book - a monograph of her thesis on Cold War spaces and identity.
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