Dr. Susan Harlan
My writing tends to focus on the relationship between place, memory, and objects, and much of my work is about travel and home. My essays have appeared in venues including The Guardian US, The Paris Review Daily, Guernica, Roads & Kingdoms, The Brooklyn Quarterly, The Morning News, Atlas Obscura, Public Books, and Nowhere. My Literary Hub essay “How to Read Caves” was selected as a Notable Essay in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. I have also written about a beloved local bookstore and the joys of motel pools for Literary Hub; the Winchester Mystery House and the store Replacements, Ltd. for Curbed; Great Smoky Mountains National Park for The Bitter Southerner; and the train tracks in a small Texas town, the California summer camp of my youth, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal for The Common. My work combines memoir and cultural criticism, and I’m interested in the everyday and the ordinary. I’m also drawn to places that engage with nostalgia, either deliberately or unknowingly, as well as places that seem haunted. Dollywood meets both these criteria, and my fascination with it, and with Dolly Parton, led to an invitation to participate in Radiolab’s podcast Dolly Parton’s America several years ago. I also write about my beloved late dog Millie and our road trips.
In 2018, my book Luggage was published in the Bloomsbury series Object Lessons, which focuses on “the hidden lives of ordinary things.” The book considers bags as carefully curated microcosms of our domestic and professional selves, charting the evolution of travel across literature, film, and art. I explore how the materials of travel — the carry-ons, totes, trunks, and train cases of the past and present — have stories to tell about displacement, home, gender, class, consumption, and labor. In December 2021, I discussed luggage and gender on The Economist’s podcast Gamechangers, focusing on the misogynist idea that women are bad packers in film and in life. Luggage has been translated into Italian, Arabic, and Japanese. I am currently at work on a nonfiction book about collecting entitled The Pyrex Menagerie, and Other Tales of Collectors and Our Things. When we think of collecting, we often think of valuable collections, but I’m drawn to collections that are not monetarily valuable and to personal passion projects.
I am also a humorist. My humor writing has appeared in venues including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Awl, The Toast, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The Hairpin, The Belladonna, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, and I was a finalist judge for the Royal Nonesuch Humor Writing Contest in 2018, with Michael Ian Black, Hank Herman, and Julie Schumacher. My piece “Alternatives to Resting Bitch Face” was selected as part of the 2019 anthology Keep Scrolling Till You Feel Something: 21 Years of Humor from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. My satirical book Decorating a Room of One’s Own, a humorous mash-up of home design reportage and literary homes based on my column for The Toast, was published by Abrams in 2018. While Luggage is about objects and travel, Decorating a Room of One’s Own is about our ideas of home. The book spoofs contemporary design culture by re-imagining its subject as famous literary homes, from Pemberley to the Swiss Family Robinson’s tree house. The idea evolved out of my own Apartment Therapy House Tour in 2013. I’m obsessed with my old 1920s house, which has also been featured on HGTV.com.
I have given talks about collecting and the life of objects, war and militarism, and death culture at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, the New York Public Library, the Weatherspoon Museum and the Elsewhere Collaborative in Greensboro, and the American Library in Paris.
My scholarship centers on militarism, materiality, and masculinity in early modern England. My book Memories of War in Early Modern England: Armor and Militant Nostalgia in Marlowe, Sidney, and Shakespeare was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016, and I have written a number of articles and book chapters about objects in Shakespeare’s plays.
I teach literature courses and literary nonfiction.
PhD New York University
MA New York University
MA King’s College London
BA Columbia University
Areas of Interest
Objects and material culture
Collections and collecting
Ideas of home and the domestic
Comedy, humor writing, satire, parody
Early modern English literature and Shakespeare
Masculinity and militarism
Reception of antiquity
Courses Taught at Wake Forest
CRW 287 Literary Nonfiction
ENG 150 Writing About Objects
ENG 150 What Is a Soldier?
ENG 150 Exit Stage Left: Writing Death and Dying in Early Modern England
ENG 265 British Literature since 1800 and Introduction to the Major
ENG 323 Shakespeare
ENG 326 Early Modern English Comedy
ENG 300 Christopher Marlowe
ENG 720 Theaters of War: Militarism in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries
Object Lessons: Luggage (Bloomsbury, 2018)
HUMOR AND SATIRE
Decorating a Room of One’s Own: Conversations on Interior Design with Miss Havisham, Jane Eyre, Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth Bennet, Ishmael, and Other Literary Notables (Abrams, 2018)
Memories of War in Early Modern England: Armor and Militant Nostalgia in Marlowe, Sidney, and Shakespeare (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
ARTICLES AND BOOK CHAPTERS
“The Armored Body as Trophy: The Problem of the Roman Subject in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus,” ARCADE: Literature, the Humanities, & the World: Thing Theory, Stanford University, March 2018
“Illyria’s Memorials: Space, Memory, and Genre in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night,” in Memory, Comedy and Skepticism, ed. Lina Perkins Wilder and Andrew Hiscock (Routledge, 2017)
“Militant Prologues, Memory, and Models of Masculinity in Shakespeare’s Henry V and Troilus and Cressida,” in Violent Masculinities: Male Aggression in Early Modern Texts, ed. Jennifer Feather and Catherine Thomas (Palgrave, November 2013)
“‘Returned from the Wars’: Comedy and Masculine Post-War Character in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing,” Upstart: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies, June 2013
“‘Certain condolements, certain vails’: Staging Rusty Armor in Shakespeare’s Pericles,” Early Theatre, vol. 11.2, December 2008
“‘Talking’ and Reading Shakespeare: King Henry VIII and the Performance of Self in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park,” The Wordsworth Circle, vol. 39.1-2, Winter/Spring 2008