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Profile: Professor Margaret Mills Harper

Photo: Eoin Stephenson

Professor Margaret Mills Harper is the Glucksman Professor in Contemporary Writing in English at the University of Limerick. She is the current Director of the Yeats International Summer School and the President of the International Yeats Society. View Meg’s full profile here.

“I serve as the Glucksman Professor in Contemporary Writing in English at the University of Limerick. As a literary scholar and critic, and as a teacher, I focus mostly on twentieth- and twenty-first–century Irish and world literature in English, especially poetry. One particular focus is on the occult life and work of the poet and playwright W. B. Yeats. I am a native of the U.S. South but I have spent time in Ireland since childhood. It feels like my second home.

“I’ve written or edited six books. My first monograph, The Aristocracy of Art, looks at autobiographical fiction and its relationship to issues of class in James Joyce and Thomas Wolfe. Wisdom of Two, my second book, explores the spiritual and literary collaboration of W. B. Yeats and his wife George (Hyde Lees), especially their experiments with automatic writing and other mediumistic experiments. A major aspect of my research life has to do with scholarly editing and editorial theory, how to turn documents and manuscripts into usable texts, the politics and collaborations that lie beneath most works that say that they have a simple “author.” I have been part of teams that have produced scholarly editions of the Yeatses’ automatic writing and other occult experiments (Yeats’s “Vision” Papers, of which I co-edited two of four volumes) and the two versions of Yeats’s occult philosophical treatise A Vision (1925 and 1937).

“In 2015, I was part of the Irish-government–sponsored initiative Yeats 2015, a project that gathered together hundreds of events honoring and extending the goals of Yeats for Irish culture in Ireland and around the world. I gave lectures at some dozen countries as part of these celebrations. I serve as the President of the International Yeats Society, and have just completed a term as Director of the Yeats International Summer School (2013–15).

“I’ve also published a number of articles and book chapters, from analyses of James Joyce’s Ulysses to the issue of trauma in Anne Enright’s The Gathering, and from the poetry of Eavan Boland and Audre Lorde to Seamus Heaney. What usually sparks my interests are issues that are noticeable from feminist points of view. I write about male and female authors, but I read “against the grain,” looking at phenomena like Yeats’s collaboration with his wife George, a woman whom few people think about but who co-wrote the occult texts behind her husband’s great late work, or the character Molly Bloom, or the courageous African American lesbian activist poet Audre Lorde.

“In my experience as a bookish girl and then as a woman scholar starting in the 1980s, the discrimination against female researchers has been serious but for the most part not spoken: the lack of parental leave, the unstated assumption that feminist research is easier than “real” (read: male) research—and most of all, the corrosive internal suspicion that all the voices telling me that I’m not good enough may be true. It has taken me years to allow myself to relax and accept that I am good at what I do. This is one reason why I teach: I want the next generation of thinkers, of whatever gender, to accept and be accepted for what they are, to be given or to take for themselves the freedom they need to do their best work. I love literature, and it gives me great joy to spread my passion for writing—one of the best ways to understand what it is like to be alive.”

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