Skip to main content

Dr Natalie Ferris

Lecturer in Literature Post-1945 to the Present

BA (Cantab), MA (RCA), DPhil (Oxon)

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Lecturer in Literature Post-1945 to the Present in the Department of English Studies  


I joined Durham as Lecturer in Literature Post-1945 to the Present in September 2021. I read for my BA in English at the University of Cambridge, and subsequently graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Critical Writing in Art & Design. I completed my AHRC-funded DPhil in the Faculty of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford in 2017. Before joining Durham, I was a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (2018-2021). I have held a number of visiting fellowships, at institutions such as the Henry Moore Institute, the Getty Research Institute, the Harry Ransom Centre, and the Yale Center for British Art. 

My research forges connections between literature and visual studies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, placing particular emphasis on British and American writers, artists, architects and designers. By using the term visual studies, I mean to indicate the broad scope of my field of interest, encompassing the visual arts, screen cultures, the science of vision, the politics of visibility and invisibility, popular culture, practices of seeing, modes of attention or distraction, and theories of spectacle and spectatorship. This necessitates the excavation of critical vocabularies, the categorisation of visual stimuli or optical effects employed by writers, intersectional approaches to the archive, and the consideration of critical practice as emerging from art practice. These approaches account for the convergences and divergences between the creative and the critical, and for contemporary writers who turn to the visual arts to develop new ways of conceptualising their historical moment.

As researcher, educator, and editor, I aim to open up dialogues about the word-image relationship, transformed in our age of late capitalism by the rise of new media and technologies, and to consider the visibility of texts between cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary, and cross-linguistic contexts. These points of interest and argumentation first took shape in my monograph, Abstraction in Post-War British Literature 1945-1980. This book, to be published in early 2022 with Oxford University Press, explores the ways in which writers and institutions responded to non-representational art in the decades following the Second World War. The discussion proceeds chronologically to exemplify how abstraction came to be discovered, absorbed and reimagined in literature. Drawing upon contributions made by major writers, such as John Berger, Christine Brooke-Rose, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Herbert Read, it gives equal prominence to figures and groupings more peripheral to mainstream literary culture that formed around small presses, regional bookshops and private galleries, such as Art & Language, the Circle Press, and the London Filmmakers Co-operative. This book is an effort to establish a new genealogy for interdisciplinary activity in Britain, to suggest that the twentieth-century was witness to a mounting fascination with the ways in which abstract art might be thought to have an eloquence of its own.

My research activities also focus on questions of gender and visibility. I'm interested in the history of women's creative labour and the ethics of representations of women in literature and visual cultures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Much of my work in this area has been an act of recapture, aiming to amplify the significance of those identifying as women writers and artists to integrate their work within an expanding tradition of experimental writing, and critical-creative practice, and to acknowledge how this might shape the reception of contemporary texts by women. These aims have motivated a number of impact and engagement projects, such as talks, lectures and symposia. At present, I am working on a publishing and network project on Women, Creativity and Intelligence Work, and I am plotting a 2023 conference at the University of Oxford to celebrate the centenary of the critic, novelist and poet Christine Brooke-Rose.

Alongside these broad theoretical and historical lines which influence my research and teaching, my work in word and image studies is also shaped by my editorial activities. My experience in commissioning roles in poetry and contemporary artists’ book publishing and as well as for a number of arts and literary journals has fostered an interest in literary production and reception, and in the material text. This area of interest poses questions of its own. How are writers using and investigating new media for publishing? How can we account for the recent trend among writers to interrogate the form of the book? What does this say about our contemporary literary culture?

Research interests

  • Experimental Writing
  • Visual Culture
  • Theories of Visuality
  • Modernism
  • Women's Writing
  • Feminist Theory
  • Gender Studies
  • Queer Theory
  • Creative Non-Fiction
  • Art Writing
  • Concrete Poetry
  • Book Arts
  • Modern and Contemporary Poetry

Esteem Indicators

  • 2021: : Paul Mellon Centre Events Grant (international conference on Text Art to be held in March 2022 at Royal College of Art) ;
  • 2020: : Paul Mellon Centre Publication Grant ;
  • 2018: : Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (University of Edinburgh) ;
  • 2018: : British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, The University of Cambridge (declined) ;
  • 2016: : AHRC International Placement Fellowship: The Yale Center for British Art ;
  • 2015: : AHRC International Placement Fellowship (The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas) ;
  • 2015: : The Getty Research Institute Visiting Scholarship ;
  • 2014: : AHRC Doctoral Award (The University of Oxford) ;
  • 2014: : The Aiden Meller Prize for Art Criticism ;


Authored book

  • Ferris, Natalie (2022). Abstraction in Post-War British Literature 1945-1980. Oxford University Press.

Chapter in book

  • Ferris, Natalie (2021). 'Cold Irons Bound: Bob Dylan, Sculpture and Surreality'. In Bob Dylan at 80: It used to go like that and now it goes like this. Browning, Gary & Sandis, Constantine Imprint Academic.
  • Ferris, Natalie (2021). 'A Precarious Vision: Hallucination and the Short Story in Post-War Britain'. In British Experimental Women's Fiction 1945-1975: Slipping Through the Labels. Radford, Andrew, & Van Hove, Hannah Palgrave. 292.
  • Ferris, Natalie (2021). 'A World of Signs: Women of Asemic Writing'. In Judith Anthology: 25 Women Making Visual Poetry. Earl, Amanda Timglaset.
  • Ferris, Natalie (2020). 'J. G. Ballard: Visuality and Novels of the Near Future'. In British Avant-Garde Fiction of the 1960s. Mitchell, Kaye, & Williams, Nonia Edinburgh University Press. 280.

Edited Journal

  • Ferris, Natalie & Cooke, Simon (2021). Women, Modernism and Intelligence Work (Special Issue). Modernist Cultures, Edinburgh University Press.
  • Ferris, Natalie Quinn, Bryony Stuart, Matthew, & Walsh-Lister, Andrew (2021). Bricks from the Kiln (Translation special issue). Bricks from the Kiln, 4 Bricks from the Kiln.
  • Ferris,, Natalie & Jones, Stephanie (2018). Christine Brooke-Rose: Remade (Special Issue). Textual Practice, 32 (2): Taylor & Francis.

Journal Article

  • Ferris, Natalie (2021). 'The Intelligent Hand: Ana Hatherly |/ Asemic Writing |/ Visualizing the Creative Act'. Modernism/Modernity + 5(4).
  • Ferris, Natalie (2021). 'savage warnings and notations: The Women Charting New Sensory Terrains in the Wake of Intelligence Work'. Modernist Cultures 16(4).
  • Ferris, Natalie (2018). 'I think I preferred it abstract': Christine Brooke-Rose and Visuality in the New Novel. Textual Practice 32(2): 225-244.
  • Ferris, Natalie (2017). 'The Double Play of Mirrors: Anna Kavan, Autobiography and Self-Portraiture'. Women: A Cultural Review 28(4): 391-409.
  • Ferris, Natalie (2015). 'vocal illyrian avowals: Herbert Read and Abstract Poetry'. Word & Image 31(3): 362-373.