Deborah Nelson

Deborah Nelson
Associate Professor
  • Department of English
  • Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
  • Chair, Department of English
Walker 501


My field is late twentieth-century U.S. culture and politics, what is known in shorthand as Post45 or Post War (to the confusion of many: which war?). I also am a founding member of the Post45 collective, which publishes an online journal Post45 and a book series at Stanford University Press. My interests in the field include American poetry, novels, essays, and plays; gender and sexuality studies; photography; autobiography and confessional writing; American ethnic literature; poetry and poetics; and Cold War history. Recently I have been thinking about the immediate postwar moment, @1948, on which topic I and three colleagues ran a year-long, interdisciplinary Sawyer Seminar sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. My colleague Leela Gandhi and I will co-edit a selection of papers presented in the seminar in a special issue of Critical Inquiry.

My first book, Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America, examined the discourse of privacy beginning with its emergence as a topic of intense anxiety in the late 1950s. Pairing landmark Supreme Court decisions on the right to privacy with the investigation of privacy and private life in the work of the confessional poets, the book takes up these two discourses for their particularly subtle investigation of the language of privacy as the concept evolved over the next decades. I am completing the manuscript for a book, Tough Broads, which explores the unsentimental, rigorous, and often "heartless" view of pain (to borrow a term from Hannah Arendt) in the work of some of the twentieth-century's most prominent women artists and intellectuals. I am interested in collaboration across disciplines and plan next to write some essays on the @1948 moment with my colleague in history, James Sparrow.


2016-17 courses: Winter 2017, True Crime (graduate & undergraduate). Spring 2017, Autobiography (graduate).

Graduate: Culture of Cold War; Law, Literature, and Sexual Revolution; Post-Modern Autobiography; Shock Treatments and Nervous Systems; Traumatic Cosmopolitanism: Around 1948 (co-taught with James Sparrow)

Undergraduate: Media Aesthetics; New Journalism and the Nonfiction Novel; Postwar U.S. Literature; Transatlantic Intimacies

Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America: by Deborah Nelson

Selected Publications

  • "Confessional Poetry," Cambridge Companion to 20th-Century American Poetry, ed. Jennifer Ashton, forthcoming.
  • "Introduction: Twentieth-Century Poetry: Expanding Archives and Methods," PMLA, Vol. 127, No. 2, March 2012.
  • "The Virtues of Heartlessness: Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, and the Anaesthetics of Empathy," American Literary History, Winter 2006.
  • "Sylvia Plath and the Cold War" in the Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath, edited by Jo Gill, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Guest Editor, Special Issue of WSQ "Gender and Culture in the 1950s," Dec. 2005.
  • "Suffering and Thinking: The Scandal of Tone in Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem" in Compassion, edited by Lauren Berlant for the English Institute, Routledge Press, 2004.
  • Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America, Columbia University Press, 2001.
  • "Beyond Privacy: Confessions Between a Woman and Her Doctor," Feminist Studies, Summer 1999.
  • "Penetrating Privacy: Confessional Poetry and the Surveillance Society," Home/Making: The Poetics and Politics of Home, edited by Catherine Wiley and Fiona Barnes.


Ph.D., City University of New York, 1996. Teaching at Chicago since 1996.