Dr Jay Prosser

Dr Jay Prosser


I received my BA in English from the University of London, where I was awarded the prize for the highest 1st class honours in my college. I then went to New York as a Fulbright Scholar and received my MA and PhD from the City University of New York Graduate School, where my thesis was also recognised with prizes. I have taught and researched at a number of institutions around the world. I have been at Leeds since 1999.


  • School of English Research Ethics Lead

Research interests

I chose my title ‘Reader in Humanities’ because it captures my diverse interests in research and writing. I began as a critic, but I find myself increasingly morphing into a creative nonfiction writer. 

My early work focused on gender and narrative. My book Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality (Columbia University Press, 1998), the first book-length analysis of transsexual narratives, is considered foundational in transgender studies. I co-edited a collection of essays, Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on The Well of Loneliness (Columbia University Press, 2002), on this celebrated, censured novel by Radclyffe Hall, and I have published many essays in gender studies. Reflecting my early specialism in American literature, I also wrote essays on John Updike and edited a collection of critical essays, American Fiction of the 1990s (Routledge, 2008).

An abiding interest is photography. My book Light in the Dark Room: Photography and Loss (Minnesota University Press, 2004) explores how photography allows writers and photographers to grapple with loss. From 2005-2010 I led an international collaboration of academics, photographers, journalists, NGOs, curators, and artists, examining photographs of atrocity. This resulted in the co-edited collection, Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis (Reaktion Books, 2012), which was published in support of the work of Amnesty International. I have published many essays on individual photographers, including Nan Goldin, Gillian Wearing, Susan Meiselas, and Del LaGrace Volcano.

Increasingly I have been moving more deeply into Jewish and transcultural studies. From 2013-14 I led an AHRC research network called Ottoman Pasts, Present Cities: Cosmopolitanism and Transcultural Memories, a collaboration this time between academics, artists, photographers, musicians, gastronomists, and poets. We investigated memories of cultural exchange in the former Ottoman Empire as one way to counter current conflicts in the region. Our research findings were published in a special issue of Memory Studies and led to an exhibition and some outreach community work with schools, charities, musicians, and oral history archives. My own contributions focused on the writings of Elif Shafak.

My recently completed big writing project is family memoir as cultural history. Loving Strangers: A Camphorwood Chest, a Legacy, a Son Returns tells the story of my mother’s lineages: of the Baghdadi Jewish diaspora meeting and marrying the Chinese women who worked for them in Southeast Asia. It’s a tale of love and spice (my grandfather’s family were for generations spice traders); of refugees and prejudice. It’s also an exploration of how empire enables and thwarts intimacies between far-flung strangers. Loving Strangers will be published with Black Spring Press in 2024. Earlier versions of the book were shortlisted for the 2019 Tony Lothian Prize for the best unpublished biography and won the 2020 Hazel Rowley Prize for best proposal for a first-time biographer (Carla Kaplan, one of the Hazel Rowley judges, interviewed me about the book). Several short personal essays based on my Asian-Jewish legacy and my blog about Loving Strangers can be found on my website.

My current work is centred on the most popular Jewish historian of the twentieth century, Cecil Roth. We are lucky to hold at the University of Leeds the depository for Roth’s books and manuscripts. In collaboration with a number of colleagues across the University, I was granted awards which have allowed me to begin investigating both Roth and his collection. I have written about how Roth’s visit to post-Holocaust Salonica radically revises an understanding of Holocaust memory, And I have researched a compelling, haunting object that Roth collected on this trip to Greece, a shoe sole cut from a Sefer Torah. My research was subsequently taken up by the Jewish Chronicle. As I worked on the object, however, I realised that it demanded more of me: more time but, more crucially, a creative engagement. How to address the questions that academic research alone can’t answer? Hence my current book project, a work of creative nonfiction: the story of a shoe sole, of an object that is at once sacred and sacrilegious, Jewish and not Jewish, evidence and yet silent..

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD English, City University of New York, Graduate School, October 1996
  • MA, English, City University of New York, Graduate School, 1992
  • BA, English, 1st Class, University of London, Westfield College, 1988

Professional memberships

  • Modern Languages Assocation
  • British Association of Jewish Studies
  • International Association of Auto/Biography
  • Jewish Historical Society of England

Student education

I teach creative nonfiction (memoir) and critical theory. Current modules include (BA) Telling Lives: Reading and Writing Family Memoir and (MA) So where do you come from? Selves, families, stories. I am interested in supervising PhDs in any of the following areas: memoir, Jewish studies, trans representation, diaspora writing. My current PhD quota is full and, with rare exceptions, I am not taking new students.   

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Jewish Studies
  • Critical Life Research Group
  • Creative Writing at Leeds

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>