Carnegie Mellon University

Jeffrey Williams

Jeffrey Williams

Professor of English and of Literary and Cultural Studies

Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University, Baker Hall 259, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890

Area of Study

Literary and Cultural Studies


I’m intrigued by the question, What does it mean to be contemporary? So, while I’ve written on the history of the novel and narrative theory, I’m especially interested in contemporary US fiction and other aspects of our culture. One avenue I’ve explored is how recent generations affect literature, for instance in “Generation Jones and Contemporary US Fiction” (American Literary History 2016).  I also co-write the annual chapter, “Fiction: The 1980s to the Present,” with a former PhD student, Robert Kilpatrick, for American Literary Scholarship.

Alongside that work, I have tried to map a history of contemporary criticism in my articles such as “The Rise of the Theory Journal” (New Literary History 2009 ) and “The Rise of the Critical Interview” (New Literary History 2019 ), as well as in co-editing The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (3rd ed., 2018). In addition, I have published more than 70 interviews with critics, writers, philosophers, and editors to hear the history from the horses’ mouths, as it were. For me, criticism is a live practice, not just an academic pursuit. Toward that end, I’ve aimed for a kind of public criticism, as you can see from my book, How to Be an Intellectual: Essays on Criticism, Culture, and Politics (Fordham, 2014), which collects essays that have appeared in The Chronicle Review, Dissent, Salon, and elsewhere.

I’ve also researched and written a good deal about contemporary higher education, notably about student debt ["Are Students the New Indentured Servants?" or  and have helped build the field of Critical University Studies.




Publications Since 2015


“Who Should Be Liable for Student Debt?” Student Loan Debt as a “Wicked Problem”: Moving from Pessimism to Possibility and Hell to Hope. Ed. Nicholas D. Hartlep. Rowman, (forthcoming). 

“Critical Theory and Cultural Studies.” English Studies in the 21st Century. Ed. Bruce McComiskey. Urbana: NCTE, forthcoming.

“Fiction: From the 1980s to the Present.” (Co-written with Robert Kilpatrick.) American Literary Scholarship 2019 (2021): forthcoming.

“The Culture Wars and Contemporary Fiction.” The Encyclopedia of American Fiction 1980-2020. Ed. Patrick O’Donnell, Stephen J. Burn, and Lesley Larkin. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell, forthcoming.

“Fiction: From the 1980s to the Present.” (Co-written with Robert Kilpatrick.) American Literary Scholarship 2018 (2020): 297-316.

 “The Book History of Theory.” Special Cluster from MLA Theory Forum. Symploke 27 (2019): 443-49.

“The Rise of the Critical Interview.” NLH 50.1 (Winter 2019): 1-22. 

(Co-editor) The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001. 2nd ed. 2010. 3rd ed. 2018.

“University Studies.” The Bloomsbury Handbook of Literary and Cultural Theory. Ed. Jeffrey DiLeo. New York: Bloomsbury, 2018. 323-32.

“Criticism Live: The History and Practice of the Critical Interview.” Special issue on Literary Interviews. Biography 41.2 (2018): 235-55.

“The Debt Experience.” The Debt Age. Ed. Jeffrey R. Di Leo, Peter Hitchcock, and Sophia McClennen. New York: Routledge, 2018. 83-96.

“Generation Jones and Contemporary American Fiction.” ALH 28.1 (2016): 94-122.

“Innovation for What? The Politics of Inequality in Higher Education.” Dissent (Winter 2016): 109-16.  

“The Need for Critical University Studies.” A New Deal for the Humanities. Ed. Gordon Hutner and Feisal Mohammed. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2015. 145-59.


(Public Criticism)

“The New Humanities.” Chronicle of Higher Education 14 Nov. 2019: B14-16.

“How the Critical Interview Became a Major Academic Genre.” Inside Higher Ed 9 July 2019.

“The Consolation of Theory: Jane Gallop, Aging, and Career.” Chronicle of Higher Education 5 April 2019: B12-14.

“The Rise of the Promotional Intellectual.” Chronicle of Higher Education 6 Aug. 2018: B9-11.

“The Legend of George Orwell.” Politics/Letters 6 Dec. 2017. 

“Orwell Is Different Than You Think He Is.” Inside Higher Ed. 9 June 2017.

“The Counterintuitive Critics: Walter Benn Michaels and His Students.” Chronicle of Higher Education 6 Jan. 2017: B11-12. 

“College and the Class Divide.” Inside Higher Ed 11 July 2016. Online.

“Empire of Letters: Tom Lutz and the LARB.” Chronicle of Higher Education. 8 Jan. 2016: B7-9.

“The New Modesty in Literary Criticism.” Chronicle of Higher Education 9 Jan. 2015: B6-9.



“Identity and Ability: An Interview with Lennard J. Davis.” Cultural Politics 17.2 (2021): 163-74.

“Multidimensionality: An Interview with Roderick Ferguson.” Symploke 28 (2020): 567-79.  

“History Below Decks: An Interview with Marcus Rediker.” Symploke 28 (2020): 547-66.  

“Publishing Feminism: An Interview with Jamia Wilson.” Public Books 23 July 2020.

“Lives in Feminism: An Interview with Nancy K. Miller.” Public Books 3 June 2020.

 “Culture, Theory, and Games: An Interview with Ian Bogost.” Symploke 27 (2019): 469-85. Abridged version: “Talking about Games.” Public Books 23 Jan. 2020.

“Writing In-Between: An Interview with Amitava Kumar.” Symploke 27 (2019): 487-504. Abridged version: “The Ruse of Fiction.” Public Books 13 Aug. 2019.

“Criticism as a Kind of Nonfiction: An Interview with Rob Nixon.” Iowa Review (Summer 2019): 173-92.

“Sexual/Theoretical Politics: An Interview with Jane Gallop.” Diacritics 46.3 (2018): 80-98.

“Planting a Flag for Socialism: An Interview with Bhaskar Sunkara.” Symploke 26 (2018): 507-27.

“Politics and Criticism: An Interview with Bruce Robbins.” Symploke 26 (2018): 489-506. Abridged version: “Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism.” LARB 23 Dec. 2018.

“Works and Days of an Editor: An Interview with David B. Downing.” Works and Days 36 (2018): 15-36.

“Shakespeare and Scooby-Doo: An Interview with Terrance Hayes.” Iowa Review 47.3 (Winter 2017/18): 168-87.

“Remaking Contemporary American Literature: An Interview with Amy Hungerford.” Symploke 25 (2017): 535-51.

“Historicizing African American Literature: An Interview with Kenneth W. Warren.” Symploke 25 (2017): 553-66.

“Ways of Reading: An Interview with Sharon Marcus.” minnesota review (2017): 83-102.

“The Studio of Literature: An Interview with Tom Lutz.” Symploke 24 (2016): 543-65.

“Change Agent: An Interview with Tamara Draut.” Symploke 24 (2016): 525-41. Shorter version: Public Books May 2016. 

“The Institution of Contemporary Fiction: An Interview with Mark McGurl.” Contemporary Literature 57.2 (2016): 165-83.

“Extending American Literature: An Interview with Wai Chee Dimock.” Boundary 2 43.2 (2016): 163-78.  

“The Generation In Between: An Interview with Jonathan Pontell.” Symploke 23 (2015): 485-511.


Curriculum Vitae