Colony Writing: Creative Community in the Age of Revolt

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Colony Writing: Creative Community in the Age of Revolt

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Title: Colony Writing: Creative Community in the Age of Revolt
Author: Roberts, Kathryn Susan
Citation: Roberts, Kathryn Susan. 2016. Colony Writing: Creative Community in the Age of Revolt. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation studies the impact of a form of literary patronage, domestic writers’ colonies, on U.S. literary production in first half of the twentieth century. I discuss Provincetown, Massachusetts; Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico; the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; and Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. Hundreds of writers, artists, and composers lived and worked in these colonies, but I focus on writers whose relationship with a colony caused a significant shift in their career, including Eugene O’Neill, Willa Cather, Thornton Wilder, Carson McCullers, and Katherine Anne Porter. There have been many studies of literary patronage in this period—from little magazines and expatriate networks, to the Works Progress Administration, to university creative writing programs—but there is no literary-historical account of domestic writers’ colonies as a distinctive set of institutions.

“Colony Writing” argues that domestic writers’ colonies made a space for writers who were neither commercial bestsellers nor high modernists, but occupied an uncharted position in the literary field. These colony writers valued participation in creative community over personal profit or aesthetic experimentation. While their work spans many genres and styles, it shares a preoccupation with heterotopias: spaces outside of mainstream culture that have the power to reshape social life. Colonies placed writers on the margins of American society, and writers celebrated that marginality as an imaginative advantage, one that gave them an outsider’s perspective on the culture at large.
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