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Sarah Pyke (University of London)

Sarah Pyke

Sarah Pyke
Image Credit: Private

Fellow in Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"

May – October 2022

'The childhood I was meant to be in': The Queer Time of Reading

What uses do LGBTQ+ readers make of the narratives they encounter over their lifetimes, from childhood onwards? How does literature enable LGBTQ+ readers to negotiate and construct varying temporalities – linear, asynchronous, chrononormative, or ‘queer’? How might ‘queerness’ invite us to think differently about the time of reading, and about the material object of the book as a mechanism for unfolding time in new ways? This project primarily makes use of oral historical research into the experiences-with-books and reading of ‘everyday’ LGBTQ+ readers. Through these accounts, I examine such practices as paracanon formation; anachronistic reading – the unexpected identification with adult characters while still a child, or a return to child characters or childhood texts in adolescence and adulthood; the belated legibility of the ‘protoqueer’ child-self, produced through discussions of remembered reading; and the complicated ways in which re-reading allows a reworking of a position on a text or of a reader’s own past. Drawing on Christina Lupton’s elaboration of books as ‘a juncture where technical and human agents collaborate fiercely in creating much-desired and nonlinear experiences of time’, I investigate the various material strategies of reading that facilitate these reworkings: skipping, skimming, reading only up to a certain point, reading out of order. Analysing the original oral histories mentioned above alongside archives such as the Hall Carpenter Oral History Project (British Library), and underexamined episodes in British queer print culture (for example, the Operation Tiger raids by HM Customs and Excise on Gay’s The Word bookshop, Bloomsbury, in the early 1980s), this project proposes that experiences-with-books and reading constitute a material and imaginative network that reaches forwards and backwards in time, that holds traces of past readers, incorporates readers through embodied reading experiences in the present, and unfolds time for queer lives to continue.

Sarah Pyke is an early career researcher working on queer histories of reading and of the book. She received her AHRC-funded PhD in 2020 from the University of Roehampton. Most recently, Sarah has been Associate Lecturer and MHRA Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University, and has held a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, funded by the University of London’s Convocation Trust. As part of the AHRC-funded Living Libraries project (2019-20), Sarah collected oral histories of public libraries and the people who use, work in and run them, now archived at the British Library. Her research interests include materiality and children’s books; queer and inclusive bibliography; and institutional and disciplinary histories of English. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in English: The Journal of the English Association, SHARP News, the International Journal of Young Adult Literature and International Research in Children’s Literature.