Liesl Olson is Director of a new program in Chicago Studies at the Newberry Library. She has also served as Director of the Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry. From 2005-2009 she taught at the University of Chicago as a Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Humanities Division. Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Olson grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University. She received her doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in New York City. Olson’s first book Modernism and the Ordinary (Oxford U P, 2009) examines a broad range of twentieth-century writers and how their works present the habitual and unselfconscious actions of everyday life. Olson has just completed a book about the literary and cultural centrality of Chicago in the first half of the twentieth century, Chicago Renaissance: The Midwest and Modernism (Yale U P, forthcoming 2017). She lives in Chicago with her husband and three sons.
In 2017, Liesl Olson will direct a 4-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for college and university faculty, "Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893-1955." The institute will explore Chicago’s contribution to the modernist movement, with particular attention given to literature. The institute will begin by considering the persistent cultural resonances of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and will end with an analysis of mid-century representations of African American experiences in literature and the visual arts. Importantly, the institute aims for an inclusive and expansive history of modernist literature and art in Chicago across racial lines. Four themes will be emphasized: (1) the geographic uniqueness of Chicago as both a Midwestern and international hub; (2) the historically overlooked women in Chicago who built the city’s literary and cultural infrastructure; (3) the connections between the “literary renaissance” of the 1910s and early 1920s and the Chicago Black Renaissance; and (4) modernism’s distinctive production and reception history in Chicago. The institute will be led by renowned scholars in the fields of literature, history, art history, print culture, and African American studies.
Further information and application instructions can be found here.
After a similar NEH summer institute at the Newberry in 2013, Olson oversaw the creation of a curated web exhibition, which makes available exemplary and unpublished archival documents from the Newberry Library collection. The exhibition traces the literary and cultural development of Chicago from the 1890s through the 1950s, highlighting such figures as Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Harriet Monroe, Sherwood Anderson, Arna Bontemps, and Era Bell Thompson.