Dr. Michael Nowlin

Dr. Michael Nowlin
Professor & Chair

BA (Western), MA (Toronto), PhD (UCLA)

Office: CLE C343A

Areas of expertise and interest: American literature 1900-1945, American expatriate novelists, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton; modern African American fiction, Harlem Renaissance, James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison.

Teaching and supervision areas: 19th- and 20th-century American literature, especially fiction; African American literature; literary modernism; 20th-century comparative literature—especially comparative treatments of American with British, Irish, or French literature.

Current research projects: Editing the second edition of The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald and embarking on a study of the writer, educator and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson tentatively titled “James Weldon Johnson: A Portrait of the Artist as a Race Man.”

Recent Awards: 2019-20: Donald C. Gallup Fellowship in American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University (August 2021); 2016-17: Faculty of Humanities Fellowship, University of Victoria.

Selected publications

Richard Wright in Context

Cambridge University Press, 2021

Richard Wright was one of the most influential and complex African American writers of the twentieth century. Best known as the trailblazing, bestselling author of Native Son and Black Boy, he established himself as an experimental literary intellectual in France who creatively drew on some of the leading ideas of his time - Marxism, existentialism, psychoanalysis, and postcolonialism - to explore the sources and meaning of racism both in the United States and worldwide. Richard Wright in Context gathers thirty-three new essays by leading scholars relating Wright's writings to biographical, regional, social, literary, and intellectual contexts essential to understanding them. It explores the places that shaped his life and enabled his literary destiny, the social and cultural contexts he both observed and immersed himself in, and the literary and intellectual contexts that made him one of the most famous Black writers in the world at mid-century.

Literary Ambition and the African American Novel

Literary Ambition and the African American Novel

Cambridge University Press, 2019

This book shows how African American literature emerged as a world-recognized literature: less as the product of a seamless tradition of writers signifying upon their ancestors and more the product of three generations of ambitious, competitive individuals aiming to be the first great African American writer. It charts a canon of fictional landmarks, beginning with The House Behind the Cedars and culminating in the National Book Award-Winner Invisible Man, and tells the compelling stories of the careers of key African American writers, including Charles Chesnutt, James Weldon Johnson, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. These writers worked within the white-dominated, commercial, Eurocentric literary field to put African American literature on the world literary map, while struggling to transcend the cultural expectations attached to their position as 'Negro authors'. Literary Ambition and the African American Novel tells as much about the novels that these writers could not publish as it does about their major achievements.


F. Scott Fitzgerald's Racial Angles and the Business of Literary Greatness

Palgrave, 2007

This books charts Fitzgerald's use of racial stereotypes to encode the dual nature of his literary ambition: his desire to be on the one hand a popular American entertainer, and on the other to make his mark among the elite members of an international literary field. Taking his cue from some under-appreciated stories, Michael Nowlin argues that Fitzgerald's early use of tropes from blackface minstrelsy anticipated his race-inflected treatment of divided artist figures in the major novels from The Beautiful and Damned to the unfinished The Love of the Last Tycoon. At issue in all these novels, both formally and thematically, is the dynamic state of the modern, multi-faceted, and ethnically diverse American cultural field Fitzgerald was constantly re-negotiating in order to meet his goal of long-term literary success.


The Great Gatsby (by F. Scott Fitzgerald)


Broadview, 2007

This Broadview edition sets the novel in context by providing readers with a critical introduction and crucial background material about the consumer culture in which Fitzgerald was immersed; about the spirit of the jazz age; and about racial discourse in the 1920s.

The Age of Innocence (by Edith Wharton)

Broadview, 2002

This edition includes a critical introduction and a range of appendices that contextualize the novel in terms of its modernist themes and tensions.

“Richard Wright and Les Temps Modernes,” in Richard Wright in Context, ed. Michael Nowlin (Cambridge UP, 2021): 273-82.

“Liking Henry James in the 21st Century,” in Reading Henry James in the 21st Century: Heritage and Transmission, eds. Dennis Tredy, Annick Duperray and Adrian Harding (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019), 335-346.

“Henry James and the Making of Modern African American Literature,” The Henry James Review 39.3 (2018): 282-92.

"The Color Line: Racial Inequality in the Literary Field,” in American Literature in Transition, 1910-1920, ed. Mark van Wienen (Cambridge UP, 2017): 74-88.

"How The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man Became an Unlikely Literary Classic,” in New Perspectives on James Weldon Johnson’s ‘The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man’, ed. Noelle Morrissette (U of Georgia Press, 2017): 41-63.

"Race Literature, Modernism, and Normal Literature: James Weldon Johnson's Groundwork for an African American Literary Renaissance, 1912-20," Modernism/Modernity 20.3 (2013): 503-18.

"Naturalism and High Modernism," F. Scott Fitzgerald in Context, ed. Bryant Mangum (New York: Cambridge UP, 2013), 179-90.

"F. Scott Fitzgerald's Survival of French Neglect," F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 10 (2012): 27-47.

" 'The First Negro Novelist': Charles Chesnutt's Point of View and the Emergence of African American Literature." Studies in American Fiction 39.2 (2012): 147-74.

"James Weldon Johnson." Oxford Bibliographies in American Literature. Eds. Jackson Bryer and Paul Lauter. Oxford UP, 2012. Updated 2019.

"The Strange Literary Career of Jean Toomer." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 53 (2011): 207-35.

"James Weldon Johnson's Black Manhattan and the Kingdom of American Culture." African American Review 39 (Fall 2005): 315-25.

"Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and the Liberal Imagination." Arizona Quarterly 60 (Summer 2004): 117-140.

"Edith Wharton's Higher Provincialism: French Ways for Americans and the Ends of The Age of Innocence." Journal of American Studies 38 (2004): 1-20.

" 'A Gentile's Tragedy': Bearing the Word About Hollywood in The Love of the Last Tycoon." F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 2 (2003): 156-185.

" 'Before the Country's Awakening': Aesthetic Misjudgment and National Growth in The Spark." Edith Wharton Review 19 (Fall 2003): 10-15.

"F. Scott Fitzgerald's Elite Syncopations: The Racial Makeup of the Entertainer in the Early Fiction." English Studies in Canada 26 (2000): 409-443. Winner of the F.E.L. Priestly Prize for best article of the year in ESC.

"Toni Morrison's Jazz and the Racial Dreams of the American Writer." American Literature 71 (March 1999): 151-74.

" 'The World's Rarest Work': Modernism and Masculinity in Tender is the Night." College Literature 25 (Spring 1998): 58-77.