Assistant Professor of English Language & Literature
Contact & Office Hours
Thursday, 2:30–4:30 p.m.
And by appointment.
Wright Hall 218
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
B.A., Bard College
Lily Gurton-Wachter received her bachelor's in literature from Bard College and her doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation was awarded the American Comparative Literature Association's Charles Bernheimer Prize for the best dissertation in the field of comparative literature for 2011. Her teaching and research focus on British Romanticism, with a particular emphasis on poetics, the history of feeling, and the shifting relation between literature and politics, history, and ethics. In addition to teaching a variety of Romantic-era authors and texts—including courses on Austen, Blake, Keats, Mary and Percy Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Romanticism and Feeling, The Literature of Resistance and Social Justice, and Romanticism and the Irrational—she teaches classes on Violence, Trauma, Memory: Literature and War, The Experimental Essay, Ecopoetry, and Literature and Waste. Before joining the Smith English department, she taught at Bard College, the Prison University Project at San Quentin Prison, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Missouri.
Gurton-Wachter's book Watchwords: Romanticism and the Poetics of Attention was published in 2016 by Stanford University Press. Watchwords argues that the concept of “attention” became particularly unhinged at the turn of the 19th century in Britain, oscillating wildly between disciplines—from theology to pedagogy, from philosophy to science, and, most forcefully, from poetics to the rhetoric and practices of war. Through close readings of poetry by Blake, Coleridge, Cowper, Keats, Charlotte Smith and Wordsworth, Watchwords uncovers a strain of poetics especially concerned with the militarization of attention, a poetics that defines itself and its reader's attention as a resistance to, and reconfiguration of, wartime vigilance. This new framework for interpreting Romanticism reveals what turns out to be an ongoing tradition of war literature that, rather than giving testimony or representing warfare, uses rhythm and verse to experiment with how and what we attend to during war.
Gurton-Wachter is currently working on a new book project about the poetics of complicity, shame and communal guilt, which looks at how poetic representations of landscape register both the dispersal and disavowal of public feeling. She recently published “The Stranger Guest: The Literature of Pregnancy and New Motherhood” in the Los Angeles Review of Books.