Harriet Monroe in China: Modernism, Travel, and Transnational Poetics

Project: Research

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This project situates the works of the American writer and editor Harriet Monroe within the historical context of early twentieth-century U.S.-China relations. Monroe is known primarily as the founder and editor of "Poetry: A Magazine of Verse", a publication founded in 1912 that became an important forum for modern Anglo-American poetry. Monroe was the editor of "Poetry" for twenty-four years, from the magazine's founding until her death in 1936, and was instrumental in defining the magazine's scope, selecting works for publication, and securing financial backing. Monroe went on two journeys to China (first in 1911, shortly before the founding of "Poetry", and then again in 1934). As I explore the journals and correspondence that document these journeys (archived in the Harriet Monroe Papers at the University of Chicago), I will show that Monroe's travels to China, her reception of Chinese civilizational and cultural values, and her insights into contemporary social life powerfully influenced her aesthetics. In showing how China provoked Monroe's aesthetic awakening, and indeed had a pervasive effect on other poetry of this period, this research will reveal that Monroe's interest in China was pivotal to challenging twentieth-century nationalist paradigms and promoting a transnational and cosmopolitan position on modern literature.While illuminating the extent to which Monroe's literary interests emerged out of this context of travel and cross-cultural experimentation, this project will pay close attention to the specific ways in which American publishers and writers were influenced by East- West geopolitical events. As Monroe interacted and corresponded with well-known diplomats and financiers who were based in China during this period, she gained an intimate perspective on the ways in which China's historical transitions were conceptualized by Americans and in relation to Western political and economic interventions. Clarifying this historical context will nuance, and even change, our reading of literary texts produced during this period and will shape our theories of literary cultures to emphasize their emergence in relation to specific political and economic contexts. In assessing the social implications of Monroe's China journeys, the research project will plumb Monroe's importance as a writer and editor to underline the broad historical significance of her developing interest in China. The outcomes of this project will be disseminated through scholarly publications: two journal articles, three conference papers, and eventually a monograph about Monroe, her China journeys, and her influence on literary modernism. 


Project number9042843
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/10/19 → …