News Bureau | University of Illinois

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign logo


2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008
Email to a friend envelope icon for send to a friend

Oct. 27-28 conference celebrates Cary Nelson, U. of I. literary scholar

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


Cary Nelson
Click photo to enlarge
University of Illinois Photo
Cary Nelson will be honored Oct. 27-28.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Scholars from across the country, including former students of the guest of honor, will gather at the end of the month to fete one of the University of Illinois’ most distinguished literary scholars who also is one of the nation’s most public critics of higher education.

Cary Nelson, a professor of English at the U. of I., the founding director of the university’s Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, the recipient of one of the campus’s highest distinctions and the new president of the American Association of University Professors, is being celebrated with a conference in his name and in his honor.

The Oct. 27-28 event, which includes a Friday night dinner and “roast” of Nelson, is titled, “Poetry, Politics & the Profession: A Tribute to Cary Nelson.” The conference, which is organized by the Unit for Criticism and the English department, will be held at the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois Ave., Urbana. More information is at

All of the talks are free and open to the public. Topics include the political role of professors; new directions in cultural studies; the future of the academic profession; expanding the canon of American poetry; and Cary Nelson as a teacher and mentor.

Two scholars from the department of social and cultural analysis at New York University will give keynote addresses: Lisa Duggan, a former U. of I. postdoctoral fellow and one of the leading public intellectuals writing on gender and sexuality, discussing “Are Radicals Like Roaches? Surviving the Class and Culture Wars”; and Andrew Ross, the author of nine books and a regular contributor to The Nation and the Village Voice, discussing “The Rise of the Global University.”

Nelson is a Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Illinois and has been the president of the AAUP since June.

A prolific writer, Nelson has written six books, co-written two others, edited another 16 and written more than 100 essays. His interest has been modern American poetry, with a focus on preserving the cultural heritage of the American political left.

According to Michael Rothberg, the director of the Unit for Criticism, Nelson’s “radically innovative ‘Anthology of Modern American Poetry’ (published by Oxford University Press in 2000) has dramatically expanded the canon.”

Recognized as an especially involved and effective mentor, Nelson has directed more than 24 doctoral students and their dissertations.

Nelson is considered “not only one of UIUC’s most distinguished and productive humanities scholars,” Rothberg said, “but he’s also one of the nation’s most important radical commentators on higher education.”

“In holding this conference now, we’ve chosen to honor Cary at the height of his career – at a moment when he’s serving as president of the AAUP and publishing important new research on modern poetry,” said Rothberg, co-organizer of the event with colleague Peter Garrett, also a professor of English and of criticism.

The organizers said they invited Nelson’s “most active colleagues and students in order to highlight the many fields to which he’s made significant contributions: the study of modern American poetry, the interdisciplinary movement of cultural studies and the critical evaluation of education and the working conditions of graduate students and adjunct professors.”

Co-sponsors include the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ State-of-the-Art Conference Fund and AAUP, many campus units, and Richard Powers, a U. of I. English professor and celebrated novelist.

Nelson has taught at Illinois since 1970. He grew up in Pennsylvania. His family was active in the anti-nuclear movement, and he was active in the anti-war movement in the 1960s and served as a draft counselor during the Vietnam War. He earned degrees at Antioch College in Ohio and at the University of Rochester in New York.