Plenary Interview: Stephen Guy-Bray
Interview by Jodie Smith and Ben Broadribb, BritGrad 2020 Co-Chairs
Originally posted: 17 February, 2020
Now that all eight BritGrad plenaries have been announced, we thought you might enjoy getting to know each of them a bit more! Read on to find out more about Professor Stephen Guy-Bray (University of British Columbia).
Jodie and Ben: First of all, congratulations on recently winning the Killam Senior Research Prize which recognises outstanding research and scholarly contributions! Could you tell us a little more about this?
Stephen: Thank you very much. The Killam Foundation gives a variety of prizes each year; the research prize has both a junior and a senior category. The prize is “in recognition of outstanding research and scholarly contributions” and I was thrilled to receive one.
Jodie and Ben: You are also Plumer Visiting Fellow in Early Modern English Literature at St Anne’s College Oxford in May and June this year. What are you most looking forward to about spending time in Oxford as a visiting fellow?
Stephen: It’s always nice to be in Oxford, a place I don’t know as well as I should, and I’m honoured to have this fellowship. I look forward to seeing friends and to spending a few weeks just researching and writing (and, of course, polishing my BritGrad plenary).
Jodie and Ben: When did you realise you wanted to join the profession and what inspired you?
Stephen: I had always loved reading poetry. Towards the end of my BA I got more and more interested in studying it, so I applied to graduate school. I wanted to see if I could actually do it, and it worked out.
Jodie and Ben: You have a delightful passion for poetry. Can you remember the first poem that really moved you? Do you write your own poetry?
Stephen: I love poetry too much to contribute my own mediocre efforts. I always read a lot of poetry, but I think that the first poem I read that really floored me was the invocation to Sabrina from John Milton’s A Maske, which I read in my parents’ copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse. I was about ten years old then.
Jodie and Ben: Your first monograph, Homoerotic Space: The Poetics of Loss in Renaissance Literature (2002) was described by one reviewer as ‘a timely contribution to early modern studies’. To what extent would you say this monograph advanced conversations in gay and gender studies?
Stephen: I think that this book’s contribution was to concentrate on how homoeroticism can be found in literary genres as well as in storylines and to show how deeply Renaissance writers engaged with the classical tradition.
Jodie and Ben: You have a forthcoming publication with Routledge, Shakespeare and Queer Representation, and you recently tweeted about how excited you are for your upcoming graduate course, Renaissance Queer Theory. How long have these projects been in the pipeline and what’s the background behind them?
Stephen: I’ve been planning to teach a course in Renaissance queer theory for over a decade. Just a few months ago I was asked to propose a graduate course for 2020-21 and I leapt at the chance. The book is a more recent thing. I started working on queer representation about three years ago, and I gave some talks on that project in November 2017 when I was in the UK. Then in the spring of 2018 I was invited to submit a proposal for a book on Shakespeare and I realized that I could do the project as a Shakespeare book. Writing the book (it’s quite short) took about 14 months.
Jodie and Ben: BritGrad seeks to offer something for graduates from a range of backgrounds and disciplines. Working on poetry, prose, and drama, and across eras from the classical world up to the twentieth century, as well as collaborating on projects such as your edited collection, The Age of Thomas Nashe, your participation in the conference fits wonderfully into this positive ethos of collaboration and interdisciplinarity. What do you love most about your profession and do you have any words of wisdom for students just starting out?
Stephen: I love that I’ve been able to try new things, to move around in the field and to see where my research interests will take me. And it is such a pleasure and a privilege to be able to talk to interesting students about the work I do. The main thing to keep in mind is that your dissertation should be a beginning rather than an ending. It’s fine to change your areas and emphases. Also, you need to work out how to balance teaching and research as soon as possible.
Jodie and Ben: You are a distinguished and respected figure in the field of early modern and Renaissance studies. We’ve talked about what you love most, but does anything about the profession still worry you?
Stephen: Thank you. I am worried by the fact that universities have increasingly devalued the humanities and have increasingly turned to staffing humanities departments with temporary staff. I have had my chance to show what I could do and it upsets me that so many really talented younger people are not getting their chance.
Jodie and Ben: Finally, if you could have a conversation with your younger self, what advice would you offer?
Stephen: I would advise young Stephen to take some art history classes and to work much, much harder on his Latin grammar.