I am a comparatist whose research interests take in several languages and locations. I focus especially on literature and visual culture in South Africa, and drama and performance in English, French, German and Spanish across Africa, the African diaspora, the Americas, and Europe. Most of my books and articles focus on theatre and other kinds of live performance but my research and publications cover cinema, television, prose fiction and graphic fiction, as well as critical theory. My primary academic appointments are in English and Comparative Literature, but I am also affiliated with the Committees on African Studies and on Theater and Performance Studies as well as the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, the Departments of Cinema and Media Studies, and Germanic Studies. I am also a research affiliate of the University of Chicago Urban Network.
City from the South
Photograph copyright: David Goldblatt
My most recent book, Imagining the Edgy City, brings together my interests in film and fiction, public art, architecture, and history with my previous work on theatre and other performances in my home city of Johannesburg. The book shows how apparently new claims for Johannesburg as global city hide a long history of images of Johannesburg as the wonder city of Africa and the world, with comparisons both pertinent and impertinent with other cities from Chicago to Paris, Berlin to Bogotá, Sydney to Sāo Paolo. Johannesburg has been called the “Chicago of South Africa” partly because of gangster culture in both places, but Johannesburg skyline also owes a lot to the influence of Chicago architects.
In addition to my own research, I have facilitated the research of others through supervising dissertations on a wide range of topics, including recently: Ecology and Economy in the Contemporary African Novel and Everyone's Theatre in Victorian London. I have also done editorial work with several journals. I served as the editor of Theatre Journal (1996-99) and subsequently on the editorial boards of Theatre Research International and Theatre Survey and am currently on the advisory boards for Modern Drama, Scrutiny2, and The South African Media Journal.
2017-2018 Courses: Winter 2018, South African Fictions and Factions (undergraduate), Before and After Beckett: Theater and Theory (undergraduate); Spring 2018, Brechtian Representations: Theatre, Theory, Cinema (graduate)
Graduate: Catharsis, Tedium, and Other Aesthetic Responses; Decolonizing Southern African Literature, Film and Visual Culture; Drama, Theatre, Image, Performance; Marxism and Modern Culture; Realism, Modernism, Socialism: The Politics of Literary Form; Brechtian Representations: Theatre, Theory, Cinema; Global Imaginary in South Africa; Translating Theory
Undergraduate: Brecht and Beyond; Before and After Beckett; African Film; African Drama and Performance; Criticism and Ideology; Modern Drama; Text and Performance; Reading Cultures
Arthur Molepo in Junction Avenue Theatre Company's Love, Crime and Johannesburg
Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer;
Photograph of Brett Bailey’s play Zombie
(1994) courtesy of the National Arts
Foundation, Grahamstown, South Africa
“The Supreme Court axes the AAA” In Triple A Plowed Under by the Living
Newspaper, US Federal Theatre Project,
New York 1936. Source: Library of Congress:
Federal Theatre Project Collection
- Imagining the Edgy City: Writing, Performing and Building Johannesburg (Oxford, 2013)
- Post-Imperial Brecht (Cambridge, 2004) (winner of the MLA's Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Study 2005)
- The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics Since 1910 (Routledge, 1999)
- The National Stage (Chicago, 1992)
- Theatre Lost, Performance Found, Critical Stages no. 15 (June 2017; special issue on African Theatre); http://www.critical-stages.org/15/south-africa-theatre-lost-performance-found/
- Brecht: Our Contemporary? (Un)timely translation and the politics of transmission, Theatre Journal 68 (2016):299-309
- Dispossession and Solidarity in Athol Fugard and Juan Radrigán, Theatre Research International 40, no.3 (2015): 314-31
- Cape Town and the Sustainable City in the Writing of Henrietta Rose-Innes, Journal of Urban Cultural Studies 2:1-2 (2015), 15-33
- Tedium: An Essay on Drag, Attunement, Theatre and Translation. Comparative Drama, 48, no.4 (2014): 393-413
- The Drama of Hospitality: performance, migration and urban renewal in Johannesburg Performance and the City: Global Stages. Ed Kim Solga and DJ Hopkins (New York: Palgrave 2013): 19-39.
- “On The Tragedy of the Commoner,” Comparative Drama 46 (3) 2012: 355-76 (winner of the Philadelphia Constantinidis Prize for dramatic theory and the Greek inheritance.)
- What Time Is This Place? Continuity and Conflict in Urban Performance Sites: Lessons from Haymarket Square.” In The Politics of Space, ed. Erika Fischer-Lichte and Benjamin Wihstutz (London: Routledge 2013): 46-65
- “From the Cape of Good Hope: South African Drama and Performance in the Age of Globalization,” Theatre Journal 64 (1) 2012: 119-27
- "Theatre: Regulation, Resistance and Recovery," in Cambridge History of South African Literature (2012)
- "Cold Chicago: Uncivil Modernity, Urban Form and Performance," TDR 53 (3) 2009
- "Africa Thina: Xenophobic and Cosmopolitan Agency in Johannesburg's Film and Television Drama," Journal of Southern African Studies 35 (2009)
- "White Cities, Diamond Zulus and the African Contribution to Human Advancement: African Modernities at the World's Fairs," TDR 51 (3) 2007: 19-45
- "History Plays (in) Britain: Dramas, Nations, and Inventing the Present," in Redefining British Theater History, vol 1: Theorizing Practice, ed. Peter Holland and W. B. Worthen (New York: Palgrave, 2003): 151-76
- "'Black Atlantics,' 'White Indians,' and 'Jews': Locations, Locutions, and Syncretic Identities in the Fiction of Achmat Dangor and others," South Atlantic Quarterly 100: 1 (2001 special issue: Atlantic Genealogies): 111-43
- (with Patricia Watson Shariff) "'Shoo—this book makes me to think!': Education, Entertainment, and 'Life-Skills Comics' in South Africa," Poetics Today 22: 2 (2001): 475-513 (South Africa in the Global Imaginary: CELJ prize for best special issue in 2001)
My research has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright-HaysFoundation, the German Academic Exchange Service, U Chicago Franke Center for the Humanities, and the American Society for Theatre Research, and rewarded with prizes from the Modern Language Association and the Comparative Drama Association. I have also received various U Chicago grants to develop new courses and enhance existing ones for both graduates and undergraduates: from the Center for Disciplinary Innovation (for Translating Theory), U Chicago Arts (for Catharsis), and Languages Across the Curriculum (for Criticism and Ideology)
Ph.D., Cornell University, 1986. Teaching at Chicago since 1986.