Present Director of Chicago Studies, Newberry Library
The mission of Chicago Studies is to illuminate Chicago’s dynamic history, literature, culture, and politics through an array of public and scholarly programs inspired by the library’s unique archival collection. Chicago Studies organizes public events; collaborates with Teacher Programs; directs NEH summer institutes for college and university faculty; leads a seminar in archival praxis for doctoral students; contributes to the fellowship program; and works closely with other cultural institutions across Chicago.
Jan. 2012 – July 1, 2015 Director, Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture, Newberry Library.
2005-2009 Harper-Schmidt Fellow & Assistant Professor, University of Chicago.
Ph.D. Columbia University, English and Comparative Literature.
M.A. Columbia University, English and Comparative Literature.
B.A. Stanford University, Honors Program in English + Phi Beta Kappa.
2022-2023 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Public Scholars Fellowship
2020 Outstanding Public History Project Award, National Council on Public History, for Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots.
2020 Short Term Fellowship, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.
2018 Pegasus Prize for Best Book of Poetry Criticism for Chicago Renaissance from the Poetry Foundation.
2015-2016 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship.
2011-2012 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship.
2010-2011 National Endowment for the Humanities/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, The Newberry Library.
2011-2012 American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellowship (1 year), Cambridge, MA.(declined)
2003-2004 Whiting Fellowship, Columbia University.
Summer 2002 Mellon Fellowship, The Henry H. Huntington Library.
Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time (exhibition catalog, Newberry Library, 2021)
Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis (Yale University Press, 2017).
Modernism and the Ordinary (Oxford University Press, 2009).
“Flicker of an Eyelid: Isamu Noguchi, Ruth Page, and the Universe of Chicago,” Noguchi Museum, Spring 2021.
“Richard Wright in Chicago,” Richard Wright in Context, edited Michael Nowlin (Cambridge University Press, 2021).
“Ruth Page, Katherine Dunham, and ‘La Guiablesse,'” Dancing on the Third Coast: Chicago Dance Histories, ed. Susan Manning and Lizzie Leopold (forthcoming).
“Little Rooms.” Into the City: A History of Chicago Art, eds. Robert Cozzolino and Maggie Taft (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018).
Midwest Interludes: Three Vignettes of the Chicago Renaissance, Los Angeles Review of Books, August 22, 2017.
“When Chicago Was the Real Literary Capital of the United States,” LitHub, September 18, 2017
“Margaret Anderson’s My Thirty Years’ War.” Chicago 101 (Chicago: Caxton Club and the University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2017).
“Seeing Eldzier Cortor.” Chicago Review (May, 2016).
“‘Fruitful Envy’: Writers at The Arts Club of Chicago.” The Arts Club at 100: Art and Culture in Chicago, 1916-2016 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press/The Arts Club of Chicago, 2016).
“Across Stark Lines.” Centennial: A History of the Renaissance Society, 1915-2015 (Chicago: The Renaissance Society, 2015).
“Stevens and Auden.” Wallace Stevens Journal (Fall, 2013): 224-230.
“Alexander Calder Letter to Rue Shaw.” The Newberry 125: Stories of Our Collection (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).
“Everyday Life Studies.” Modernism/Modernity (January, 2011): 175-180.
“‘An invincible force meets an immovable object’: Gertrude Stein comes to Chicago.” Modernism/Modernity (April, 2010): 331-361.
“Introduction.” Narration, by Gertrude Stein (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010): vii-xii.
“Robert Hass’s Guilt or The Weight of Wallace Stevens.” The American Poetry Review, Volume 36, number 5 (Sept/Oct 2007): 37-45.
“Sex and Sexuality.” A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture, Eds. David Bradshaw and Kevin J.H. Dettmar (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006).
“Wallace Stevens’ Commonplace.” The Wallace Stevens Journal 29.1 (Spring 2005): 106-116.
“Virginia Woolf’s ‘cotton wool of daily life.’” Journal of Modern Literature 26.2 (Winter 2003): 42-65.
“Gertrude Stein, William James, and Habit in the Shadow of War.” Twentieth-Century Literature, Volume 49, number 3 (Fall 2003): 328-359.
“Stevens and Auden: Antimythological Meetings.” The Wallace Stevens Journal 27 (Fall 2003): 240-254.
“Kuh-Kuh: The Woman Who Brought Modern Art to Chicago,” Chicago Reader, November 12, 2021.
“Waves of Transformation: Five Women of the Chicago Avant-Garde,” Los Angeles Review of Books, Oct. 10, 2021.
“Covert,” Chicago Reader, April 27, 2020.
“Cad of the Century: Two New Biographies of Ben Hecht,” Los Angeles Review of Books, July 12, 2019.
“What did a 1930s ballet say about cultural appropriation in modernist Chicago?” Chicago Reader, March 28, 2019.
“On Worrying about Linda,” Avidly (November 30, 2018).
“My L.A. in Four Locations,” Los Angeles Review of Books (November 6, 2018).
“Chicago Poems: Stormy, Husky, Brawling at 100.” Los Angeles Review of Books (July 10, 2016).
“100 Years of Poetry: ‘In the Middle of Major Men.’” Poetry Foundation website (October, 2012)
(Curator): Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time
Chicago Avant-Garde, a Fall 2021 exhibition at the Newberry library, tells the story of five women who took radical risks in their lives and in their art: artist Gertrude Abercrombie, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, choreographers Katherine Dunham and Ruth Page, and dealer-curator Katharine Kuh. Inspired and challenged by Chicago, they helped transform the city into a hub of avant-garde experimentation. Designed by graphic artists Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi of Sonnenzimmer and letterpress printer Ben Blount, the Chicago Avant-Garde catalogue includes more than 75 photographs, an engaging and deeply researched essay by Olson, and powerful new poems dedicated to each of the five avant-gardists by Chicago-based poet and educator Eve L. Ewing.
(Project Team and Scholarly Advisor): Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots
Developed in partnership with ten other Chicago-based cultural organizations and designed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a week-long period of racial violence in the city, this NEH grant to the Newberry library supported a broad range of city-wide programs—from film premieres and youth poetry slams to public conversations and bike tours—to engage audiences in an ongoing dialogue about the riots’ impact on Chicago’s past and present. (February 2019-November 2019). Awarded the 2020 Outstanding Public History Project Award by the National Council on Public History.
This web exhibit traces the literary and cultural development of Chicago from the 1890s through the 1950s, highlighting such figures as Harriet Monroe, Sherwood Anderson, Carl Sandburg, Fanny Butcher, Ernest Hemingway, Arna Bontemps, Era Bell Thompson, and Jack Conroy. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the exhibit makes available exemplary and unpublished archival documents from the Newberry collection (poetry, correspondence, artwork, photographs, and essays of writers, artists, and critics) with brief articles that help to incorporate the materials into the college classroom.
2013, 2017, 2019 Director, NEH Summer Institute, Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893–1955.
* 4-week institute for college and university faculty exploring Chicago’s Influence on the literature and art of the twentieth century, from the 1893 World’s Fair to the Chicago Black Renaissance.
Fall 2018, 2019, 2021 The Archive: Theory, Form, Practice, Newberry Library
* Seminar for graduate students in the humanities that explores the theoretical, critical, and practical methods necessary to negotiate historical and literary archives.
2018 Co-Director, NEH Summer Institute, Art and Public Culture in Chicago.
* 3-week institute for college and university faculty looking at the arts, their reception, and their civic import in Chicago from the 1893 World’s Fair through the present moment. Emphasis on artistic communities, small-scale venues, and vernacular expressions that developed against or alongside Chicago’s mainstream cultural institutions—especially those that took shape in the city’s African American neighborhoods.
Spring 2017 Chicago Studies and the Archive, Newberry Library
* Interdisciplinary seminar designed to give graduate students an introduction to theories of the archive and to modern archival practices.
Feb. 2011 “City of the Big Shoulders”: Chicago and Twentieth-Century Literature.
* All-day seminar for high-school teachers held at the Newberry library.
Sept. 2005 – June 2009 Readings in World Literature, The University of Chicago.
* 3-quarter thematic course for spanning multiple national literatures.
Jan. 2006 – March 2007 Wallace Stevens and After, The University of Chicago.
* Graduate and undergraduate seminar examining Stevens’s impact on avant-garde and mainstream American poetry.
March 2005 – June 2006 Poetry and Politics, The University of Chicago.
* Undergraduate seminar exploring the political movements affiliated with twentieth-century poetry.
Sept. 2004 – May 2005 Literature Humanities, Columbia University.
* “Great Books” course, an intensive full-year seminar for first-years.
Public Programs at the Newberry Library,
2020 WTTW The Great Chicago Fire
2019 NPR Chicago’s Red Summer
Oct. 2017 Arts Club Chicago Conversation with artist Lincoln Schatz
Oct. 2017 WBEZ-NPR, Chicago Literature and Art
July 2017 WBEZ-NPR, Carl Sandburg’s Chicago.
Nov. 2015 POETRY FOUNDATION, An Adventure Was Home: Gertrude Stein in Chicago
July 2013 WBEZ-NPR, Who was Hemingway at 25?