Art & Action: Authorship, Celebrity, and Politics

Writers have always made use of their public standing and cultural authority to promote causes that transcend the literary sphere, from abolition and gender equality to free expression, anti-war agitation, and environmental issues. In this talk, Dr Sandra Mayer presents case studies and raises questions that have emerged from her current project, which explores the intersections of authorship, politics, activism, and literary celebrity across historical periods, media, and autobiographical life-writing genres. How do authors negotiate the tension between ethics and aesthetics in their public interventions, the potential conflict between authorial and activist selves? What are the risks faced by the politically engaged and outspoken writer? What are the wider implications of authors’ political responsibilities and cultural authority in today’s literary marketplace and age of celebrity activism?

Sandra Mayer is the Hertha Firnberg Research Fellow in English Literature at the University of Vienna and at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing at Wolfson College, University of Oxford. She works on celebrity, life-writing, literary networks, and the reception of Oscar Wilde. Her first book, Oscar Wilde in Vienna, was published in 2018, and in 2019 she guest-edited a special issue on “Life Writing and Celebrity” for the journal Life Writing.