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.
- MA Programme Leader, Creative Writing, Critical Life
- Officer for Equality and Inclusion
My position ‘in Humanities’ allows me to pursue diverse interests in research in writing.
My early work focused on gender and narrative. My first book, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality (Columbia University Press, 1998), intervened in queer theory to provide the first book-length analysis of transsexual narratives. I co-edited a collection of essays, Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on The Well of Loneliness (Columbia University Press, 2002), on a similar set of connections in a canonical novel. I have published many essays in gender studies. An abiding interest is American literature. I have written essays on John Updike’s writing and matters of race, and I also edited a collection, American Fiction of the 1990s (Routledge, 2008).
When I gave up taking photographs, I started writing about them. My book Light in the Dark Room: Photography and Loss (Minnesota University Press, 2004) looks at how photography allows writers and photographers to realise the loss of the present moment. 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.
Increasingly, I have been burrowing deeper 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 intervene in current conflicts in the region. Our research findings have been published in a special issue of Memory Studies and led to an exhibition and some fun outreach work with food, schools, musicians and oral history archives.
My last big writing project -- long in the making, but now with a good draft completed -- is family memoir as cultural history. Empire's Loving Strangers: Journeys Through an Asian-Jewish Camphorwood Chest 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 story of love and spice (my grandfather’s family were for generations spice traders); of refugees and prejudice. But it’s also an exploration of how empire enables intimacies between far-flung strangers. I hope it will be a story for our divisive and stranger-paranoid time. The book was 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. I discuss how I’m taking the book forward in this interview. I am blogging about this book on my writing website.
My current academic 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 been given some awards which have allowed me to begin investigating both Roth and his collection, beginning with Roth’s visit to post-Holocaust Salonica. My plans for the future include a much-needed biography of Roth, encompassing, of course, his beloved terrier, Binx.<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
- Modern Languages Assocation
- British Association of Jewish Studies
- International Association of Auto/Biography
- Jewish Historical Society of England
I teach creative nonfiction, critical theory, life writing and American literature. At BA and MA level, I teach courses on reading and writing family memoir.
Research groups and institutes
- Centre for Jewish Studies
- Critical Life Research Group
- Creative Writing at Leeds