SAM Seminar: Queer Collage Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton’s Defaced Library Books

When:31 May 2017, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:G17 Robert Webster Building
Who:Ashley Shelden (Kennesaw State University), Melissa Hardie (University of Sydney)
Queer Collage

* Cancelled. We apologise for any inconvenience. *

Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton were arrested on April 28, 1962 for stealing and defacing library books, then returning the collaged book covers to the Islington Public Library. More than just a prank, the defaced library books protest the status quo in mid-century Britain and prefigure the corrosive, subversive, and comic elements of Joe Orton’s later drama. Despite the importance of these artefacts, relatively few critics have undertaken focused analyses of them. This seminar reads these astonishing texts in their own right, as literary and visual objects that can offer new frameworks for contemporary cultural and literary criticism.

Orton believed that the harshness of their punishment—six months in jail and a £260 fine—was due to their sexual status: “because we’re queers.” The primary goal of this panel, then, is to develop a complex account of the relation between these collaged book covers and queerness, articulating how Halliwell and Orton’s work might expand and open up new avenues for queer theory. This seminar contends that what is queerest about the defaced library books is not simply Halliwell and Orton’s sexuality. The queerness that Halliwell and Orton’s book covers make available treats homosexuality, to be sure, but extends far beyond the simple equation of “queer” with the non-heterosexual. In this seminar, we explore the multiple resonances of queerness in these jarring and galvanizing images; the queerness of the defaced library books emerges where they undermine Englishness, class, literary history, the archive, and identity

Queer Collage Queens FavouriteQueer Collage BetjemanQueer Collage Roses


Arresting Images: Halliwell, Orton, and the Surprise of Otherness

Ashley Shelden is Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University. Her book, Unmaking Love: The Contemporary Novel and the Impossibility of Union was published by Columbia University Press in January 2017. Shelden’s work has also appeared in Contemporary Literature, Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to Shakespeare (Duke University Press, 2010), and Straight Writ Queer: Non-Normative Expressions of Heterosexual Desire (McFarland Press, 2006). She is currently working on her second book project, which focuses on abjection in contemporary literature and culture.

Database Animals: Halliwell and Orton’s Queer Archive

Melissa Jane Hardie is Senior Lecturer in the English Department and Associate Dean Undergraduate for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. She is currently completing a monograph on the closet after queer theory. This paper comes from a new project that examines the fate of the novel as object after Modernism, focusing on the remediation of that object in visual and audio-visual media including film and television. This work investigates neglected modes of circulation and consumption across a variety of media. Her article on the cinematic circulation of the novel, focussing on Cukor’s 1981 Rich and Famous is forthcoming in Novel 50:1 (2017). Her essay on Dog Day Afternoon, sexual modernity, and figurability appeared in a Modernism/Modernity Print Plus cluster on sexual modernity edited by Benjamin Kahan. Her essay on queer theory and post-structuralism recently appeared in Scott Herring’s Cambridge Companion to American Gay and Lesbian Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Her essay on editing and Djuna Barnes, “That Man in My Mouth: Editing, Masculinity and Modernism,” appeared in the Cambridge University Press collection Masculinity and Modernism, ed. Natalya Lusty and Julian Murphet (2014).

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Robert Webster Building is located mid-way off the UNSW main walkway. Map Reference G14. Room G17 is located on the ground floor.

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