Hugh Kenner: How To Write

Hugh Kenner: How to Write

Symposium, Université Paris Nanterre, May 5th, 2023

Call for papers

About Hugh Kenner, Marjorie Perloff wrote that, although he was “in one sense the most celebrated of American critics, [he] has been—and continues to be—marginalized by the Anglo-American academic establishment.” The statement comes from a paper written for a special issue of the William Carlos Williams Review, in 1993, in honor of Kenner and (with a separate group of essays) the concrete poet Mary Ellen Solt. That such essays on Kenner are relatively rare tends to prove Perloff right regarding Kenner’s marginalization. The Pound Era, his opus magnum, is still read, often with delight and awe, by many of us; yet the 50th anniversary of its publication in 2021 has gone unsung. Has the book, as Perloff suggested in 1993, been left out of many academic syllabi because of its “absence of ‘theory’ as well as of ‘methodology’?” But these methodological weaknesses are also what makes The Pound Era a literary, rather than a mere scholarly, endeavour and, perhaps, masterpiece. It is striking, when reading papers devoted to Kenner, how their authors, mixing personal anecdotes, biographical fragments, and radical statements, are, consciously or not, echoing his style – his own method.

Kenner, born in 1923 in Toronto, first studied under Marshall McLuhan, who introduced him to Pound during a visit to St Elizabeth. He earned his PhD from Yale with a dissertation on Joyce supervised by Cleanth Brooks, and taught in the US (Santa Barbara, Johns Hopkins, U. of Georgia). The Pound Era came after a series of monographs which had already established Kenner as an important scholar of Modernism, starting with Pound (The Poetry of Ezra Pound, famously written in six weeks), then Lewis, Joyce, Eliot and Beckett. After 1971 came a number of essays and collections which testify to Kenner’s wide range of interests around and beyond Modernism, from Buckminster  Fuller to Chuck Jones through geodesic math, and the much debated A Sinking Island, his pessimistic account of the state of British literature.

2023 marks the centenary of Kenner’s birth and the twentieth anniversary of his death. With this symposium, we would like to use this opportunity not just to pay homage to Kenner as a great Modernist scholar, but also to consider the whole range of his writings, and their consistency. Among possible topics, his position in academic syllabi today, in particular in the context of the transformation and reconceptualization of the modernist canon, which he initially helped shape, under the influence of the New Modernist Studies, may be discussed. Papers considering the reading of Kenner as an event in one’s scholarly development are also welcome, from advanced as well as junior researchers. Finally, his writing style and his influence on academic writing may be put under scrutiny.

Abstracts (max. 300 words) with a short biographical notice should be sent to Charlotte Estrade ( and Chloé Thomas ( by February 28th, 2023.


Hugh Kenner Papers. Harry Ransom Center.

Davie, Donald. “The Universe of Ezra Pound.” Paideuma, vol. 1, no. 2, 1972, pp. 263–69. (Review of The Pound Era).

Donovan, Stewart. “The Critic As Artist. Review Essay of Hugh Kenner’s Literary Criticism.” The Antigonish Review, vol. 100, Winter 1995, pp. 39–55.

Goodwin, Will. “‘His True Penelope’: Hugh Kenner on William Carlos Williams: A Bibliography.” William Carlos Williams Review, vol. 19, no. 1/2, 1993, pp. 70–80.

—. Hugh Kenner: A Bibliography. Whitston Publishing Company, 2001.

Kelly, Joseph. “Hugh Kenner, Gentleman Scholar.” New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua, vol. 5, no. 2, 2001, pp. 145–49.

Perloff, Marjorie. “The Outsider as Exemplary Critic: Hugh Kenner.” William Carlos Williams Review, vol. 19, no. 1/2, 1993, pp. 49–56.

Pritchard, William H. “Hugh Kenner’s Achievement.” The Hudson Review, vol. 57, no. 3, 2004, pp. 383–400,

Rosenthal, M. L. “A Toast to Hugh Kenner.” William Carlos Williams Review, vol. 19, no. 1/2, 1993, pp. 63–69.

Slatin, John. “Re-Reading Hugh Kenner.” William Carlos Williams Review, vol. 19, no. 1/2, 1993, pp. 57–62.

Stewart, Bruce. “Hugh Kenner (1923-2003).” Ricorso, Accessed 25 Nov. 2022. (Includes a number of references, obituaries and responses to Kenner’s works).

Utell, Janine. “Virtue in Scraps, Mysterium in Fragments: Robert Graves, Hugh Kenner, and Ezra Pound.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 27, no. 1/2, Autumn 2003, pp. 99–104.