Liesl Olson is Director of Chicago Studies at the Newberry library.  Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Olson grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated from Stanford University.  She received her doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in New York City, and for four years she taught at the University of Chicago as a Harper-Schmidt Fellow.  She has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Newberry library.  Olson has written widely on twentieth-century literature and art, including her first book Modernism and the Ordinary (Oxford U P, 2009) and her most recent book Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis (Yale, 2017).  She lives in Chicago with her husband and three sons.


Recent discussions of Chicago Renaissance:

In the Chicago Tribune

Say Chi City,” Public Books

At the Arts Club Chicago in conversation with artist Lincoln Schatz

The Morning Shift WBEZ Chicago.


In 2018, Olson will co-direct with Rebecca Zorach and Chad Heap a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute, “Art and Public Culture in Chicago.”  Held at the Newberry, the institute will look closely at the arts, their reception, and their civic import in Chicago from the 1893 World’s Fair through the present moment. Guest faculty will include scholars in art history, literature, American studies, African American studies, and creative arts. For more information, including how to apply, see the institute’s website.

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