Karen Steele - Texas Christian University. Keynote Speaker.

Professor Karen Steele, started her career in literature as a Bachelor's student
in English at St. Olaf College, in May 1988. Since then, there was no looking
back, as she went on to complete her Master's and Ph.D., both from University
of Texas at Austin. It seems rather uncanny that all the above three
achievements saw fruition in the month of May, with a gap of four years
between each.

Right after receiving her last degree, Prof. Steele started working for Texas
Christian University (TCU) in the capacity of Assistant Professor of English,
becoming Associate Professor of English in the year 2003. She became the
Professor of English at TCU in 2009, a position she holds till date.
Apart from teaching, Prof. Steele is a voluminous writer, focusing on Modern
British and Irish literature, Irish women’s cultural production and media
history, 19 th -21 st century British literature, women's writing, gender and
sexuality studies. She explores the literary and historical significance of
magazines like the United Irishmen and Shan Van Vocht, their attempts to work
out an alliance across the divides of religion, class, and ideology, their attempts
to give women visibility; and women's writing in the Irish nationalist tradition
which forms an influential body of nationalist journalism during the Irish
Revival. She focuses on the leading female voices in the cultural and political
movements that helped launch the Easter Rising of 1916: Augusta Gregory,
Alice Milligan, Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, Delia Larkin, Hanna Sheehy
Skeffington and Louise Bennett. Karen Steele argues that by examining the
innovative work of these writers from the perspective of women's artistry and
women's political investments, we can best appreciate the expansive range of
their cultural productions and the influence these had on other nationalists,
who went on to shape Irish politics and culture in the decades to come.
In her reappraisal of Constance Markievicz, the first woman to be elected to
the British Parliament in 1918, who was sentenced to death for her role in the
Irish nationalist movement, Prof. Steele provides an insight to her
kaleidoscopic life, and her multifaceted personality as a writer, editor of
newspapers, gardening columnist, cartoonist, painter, a striking Ascendancy
beauty who married a Polish Count, a fighter for social causes, a politician,
revolutionary and the Armed New Woman. Prof. Steele demonstrates how
these apparently disparate traits were melded and dedicated to the same
cause, nationalism. For example, Prof. Steele points out that, she employed
gardening as a metaphor for life and revolution.
Prof. Steele also showcases Alice Milligan's multiple identities as an upper-
class, highly-educated Protestant, a female nationalist from Belfast and
analyses why her literary and editorial objectives in the Shan Van Vocht
centred on alliance and unification. In her studies of Maud Gonne, Prof. Steele
assays her role in the nationalist movement of Ireland, her "composite
personality", her various talents and other resources, social as well as natural,
which she used to her advantage to further the nationalist cause. She also
makes a review of Yeats' works influenced and inspired by Gonne, and how his
oeuvre underwent a change as his attitude towards her altered. She points out
that he adapted chivalric conventions of love poems to woo the New Woman
in his early poems in 1890s, even though in his later poems he disparaged
women's role in nationalist politics.
Steele appraises the valiant battles fought by Betsy Gray, the contributions of
Alice Milligan and Anna Johnston to literature and nationalist journalism and
the nationalist tales of Maria Edgeworth and Sydney Owenson. According to
her, "the high points of women's participation [in Irish nationalism] were also
moments of exceptional political crisis, when women were either drawn into
the movement because of the temporary (enforced) absence of men, or they
were encouraged to participate because a strong, united front was desperately
needed, and because women, when the military struggle began, were also
needed for essential back-up services. At no stage were they accepted as equal
Prof. Steele also won the award of the Graduate Faculty Member of the Year,
TCU Department of English, the AddRan College of Liberal Arts Division of
Humanities Award for Distinguished Achievement as a Creative Teacher and
Scholar and Wise Woman Award for Teaching and Mentoring (WGST).


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