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Rita Barnard

Director, Comparative Literature Program; Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Fisher-Bennett Hall 337
Photo by Anja Wiehl

Rita Barnard received her Ph.D. from Duke University and is currently Professor of English and Director of the Undergraduate Program in Comparative Literature at Penn. She holds a secondary a position as Professor Extraordinaire at the University of Stellenbosch and has been a Visiting Professor at Brown University and a Mellon Distinguished Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. For many years, she served as Director of Penn’s Women’s Studies Program and the Alice Paul Center for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Her scholarly interests lie in modernism and global modernities, South African literature and cultural studies, modern American literature (especially of the 1930s), contemporary cinema, and the novel as genre. In 2005 she received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, Penn’s highest teaching award, and, in 2010, the SAS Award for Distinguished Teaching in the School of Liberal and Professional Studies. 

Rita Barnard is the author of The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place (Oxford University Press, 2006) and the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Nelson Mandela (Cambridge University Press, 2014). She is close to completing her third monograph, South African Modernisms: Language, Theory, Things and is co-editing a collection of essays entitled States of Transition: The Temporalities of South African Writing with Andrew van der Vlies. Her published essays, which cover a wide range of subjects in the broad field of twentieth-century literature and culture, have appeared in journals like American Literature, American Literary History, Cultural Studies, Contemporary Literature, Interventions, Modern Fiction Studies, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, and Research in African Literatures. Barnard is also a contributor to several edited collections, including Senses of Culture, Writing South Africa, The Big Bad Bitterkomix Handbook, Beautiful Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics, Modernism and Colonialism, and the Cambridge Companion to American Modernism, for which she wrote the chapter on modern American fiction. 

Rita Barnard has served on the editorial boards of Contemporary Literature, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, PMLA, Research in African Literatures, Tydskrif vir Letterkunde/Journal of Literary Studies, and English Studies in Africa. With Grant Farred, she co-edited After the Thrill is Gone: Ten Years of Democracy in South Africa, a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly. She has just stepped down as editor of Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, but continues to serve of the board of this innovative journal. (Please see our website: 



Doctoral Dissertations Chaired


J. Bret Maney "Novels Wrecked by Success: American Fiction and the Problem of the Good Life: 1890-1940"


Asma el-Naser "Afterlives: Specters of the American Century in Post-WWII American and Arabic Literature"


Edward Lybeer "Transnational Modernism in the Americas: Mexican and US Culture in the 1920s and 1930s"


Jennifer Glaser "Exceptional Differences: The Politics and Poetics of Post-War Jewish American Literature"


Stephanie Harzewski "The New Novel of Manners: Chick Lit and Postfeminist Sexual Politics"


Jeff Allred "American Modernism and Depression Documentary"
Stephen G. B. Hock "Serial Postmodernism: Repetition and Innovation in Contemporary American Fiction"
Monica Popescu "South Africa in Transition: Theorizing Post-colonial, Post-apartheid, and Post-Communist Cultural Formations"


Alice Brittan "Writing and Portage: The Post-Settlement Novel and Movement of Things"