Deborah Nelson

Deborah Nelson
Dean of the Humanities and Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of English and the College
Walker 213
Ph.D., City University of New York, 1996
Teaching at UChicago since 1996


Deborah Nelson is the Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of English and chair of the department of English. Her book Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil won the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize for Best Book of 2017 and the Gordan Laing Prize in 2019 for the most distinguished contribution to the University of Chicago Press by a faculty member.  Tough Enough has now been translated into Spanish, Korean, and German with forthcoming translations in Chinese and Turkish. She is also the author of Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America and articles published in PMLA, American Literary History, Contemporary Literature, Feminist Studies and in several edited collections. Nelson led a Mellon-funded Sawyer Seminar called “@1948” and edited with Leela Gandhi a special issue of Critical Inquiry devoted to the topic. She is a founding member of the research collective, Post45.  She has been the Deputy Provost for Graduate Education (2011-2015) and the Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (2006-2009).  She has continued her work on graduate education with grants from the NEH (Next Generation Implementation Grant) in 2016 and the Mellon Foundation (Scholarly Careers Initiative) in 2018.


  • Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil, University of Chicago Press, April 2017.
  • Around 1948” with Leela Gandhi a special issue of Critical Inquiry, Summer 2014.
  • "Confessional Poetry," Cambridge Companion to 20th-Century American Poetry, ed. Jennifer Ashton, 2013.
  • "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.


2017-2018 Courses: Autumn 2017, Ph.D Colloquium (graduate), The Nuclear Age (undergraduate)

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

Subject Area: American Literature