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Jenny Diski: A Celebration

University of Oxford Symposium

Convened by Dr Ben Grant with Keynote Speaker Blake Morrison

7th April 2020 at Rewley House, Department for Continuing Education


Jenny Diski sadly died in 2016, and the time is right for a celebration of her work.

Diski wrote in many genres, from novels and short stories, to memoirs, travel narratives, and books on human-animal relationships and the 1960s. She was also a prolific reviewer, who contributed regularly to the London Review of Books. Diski herself, though, refused to classify her writings: ‘Something about the distinction between being a fiction and a non-fiction writer distresses me’, she declared, ‘So I think of myself as a writer. Period’. And it is as a writer, first and foremost, that Diski is appreciated by her many admirers. No reader of hers can fail to be dazzled by her style, or struck by her formal playfulness and innovation.

Yet, perhaps owing to her refusal to be confined by boundaries, Diski has tended to slip under the radar, or between the gaps, in academic discussions. This symposium seeks to bring her to the fore by recognising that it is precisely her difference from what we might expect that makes her so exciting, and by drawing together the many aspects of her work. How, for instance, does Diski extend our understanding of life writing, autofiction, and travel literature? How does she explore the individual mind and social institutions? Is it right to think of her as a Jewish writer, and how does Jewishness figure in her work? What do we make of her provocative interrogations of gender and sexuality? It is hoped that by addressing questions such as these, with a close attention to literary form, this celebration of her work will help to place Diski where she belongs: as one of the most important writers of our time. Period.

Registration closes on 17th March 17:00. Click here to book your place. 


09.30-10.00: Registration

10.00-11.40:  Plenary Panel: Jenny Diski and Life Writing


Joanna Price, ‘On Walking, Falling, Writing: Genre and the Feeling Body in Jenny Diski’s Memoirs’

Karl Christoph Esser, ‘True Lies: The Roaring Sixties: Sex, Drugs, and Mental Illness’

Gunnthorunn Gudmundsdottir, ‘Narrative and Genre: Diski and Life Writing’


11.40-12.00: Tea and Coffee

12.00-13.00: Keynote Speech: Blake Morrison, ' "Writer. Period." The unclassifiable Jenny Diski'.


13.00-14.00: Lunch

14.00-15.30: Parallel Panels


Parallel Panel 1: Living on the Edge in Jenny Diski’s Fiction

Marisa Nakasone, ‘An Excess of Reality: Pain, Language, and the Modern Madwoman in Jenny Diski’s Nothing Natural’

Ben Grant, ‘ “Curled Up in the Place of Questions”: Belief and Doubt in Jenny Diski’s Then Again’

Diane Gagneret, ‘ “This is a Place of Madness”: Borderline Stories in Jenny Diski’s Monkey’s Uncle’


Parallel Panel 2: In Gratitude: Jenny Diski, Doris Lessing, and Cancer

Eliza Maureen Altenhof, ‘ “Diagnosis” in Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude’

Lisa Mullen, ‘ “A kind of grow-your-own narrative”?: Unwriting the Cancer Memoir in Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude

Winifred Bolton, ‘Diski and Lessing: Rescue Remedy?’


15.30-16.00: Tea and Coffee

16.00-17.30: Plenary Panel: Jenny Diski and Writing


Gerd Bayer, ‘The Unapologetic Writer: Jenny Diski, Michel Montaigne, and Marie De Gournay’

Sarah Lightman, ‘ “I Forget That I Already Wrote It”: Repetition and Remembering in the works of Jenny Diski, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Sarah Lightman’

Chloe Diski, 'No Prize Zone: Jenny Diski and Doris Lessing's Writing Space'


17.30-17.50: Concluding Remarks: Ian Patterson

17.50-18.00: Close


Top image: used with permisson from Ian Patterson.

This event is supported by the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing and the Faculty of English Language and Literature.