Rediscovering Literary History with Guggenheim Fellow Devoney Looser

Rediscovering Literary History with Guggenheim Fellow Devoney Looser

November 7th 2022 | 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM

You probably haven't heard of the Porter sisters, but you should have! Jane and Anna Maria Porter were contemporaries of Jane Austen who wrote 26 novels between them and rose to global fame, socializing among the rich and famous and falling dramatically in and out of love—all the while saving their papers, reasonably expecting that their legacy would live on.

Except, it didn't. These two trailblazing writers have been largely forgotten to history: childhood friend Sir Walter Scott was given credit for their literary invention, and never publicly acknowledged the sisters' work as his inspiration. The Porter sisters' legacy was eclipsed by Scott's fame. 

Until now. Guggenheim Fellow in English Literature Devoney Looser reintroduces the world to the Porter sisters in her new biography, Sister Novelists. Join us on Zoom on Monday, November 7th at 6pm ET to hear from the author, who will be in conversation with Dr. Erin Templeton, local luminary and Dean at Converse University. Register for the Zoom webinar at the link below, and don't forget to reserve your copy of the book!


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About the Book 

For readers of Prairie Fires and The Peabody Sisters, a fascinating, insightful biography of the most famous sister novelists before the Brontës.

Before the Brontë sisters picked up their pens, or Jane Austen's heroines Elizabeth and Jane Bennet became household names, the literary world was celebrating a different pair of sisters: Jane and Anna Maria Porter. The Porters-exact contemporaries of Jane Austen-were brilliant, attractive, self-made single women of polite reputation who between them published 26 books and achieved global fame. They socialized among the rich and famous, tried to hide their family's considerable debt, and fell dramatically in and out of love. Their moving letters to each other confess every detail. Because the celebrity sisters expected their renown to live on, they preserved their papers, and the secrets they contained, for any biographers to come.

But history hasn't been kind to the Porters. Credit for their literary invention was given to their childhood friend, Sir Walter Scott, who never publicly acknowledged the sisters' works as his inspiration. With Scott's more prolific publication and even greater fame, the Porter sisters gradually fell from the pinnacle of celebrity to eventual obscurity. Now, Professor Devoney Looser, a Guggenheim fellow in English Literature, sets out to re-introduce the world to the authors who cleared the way for Austen, Mary Shelley, and the Brontë sisters. Capturing the Porter sisters' incredible rise, from when Anna Maria published her first book at age 14 in 1793, through to Jane's fall from the pinnacle of fame in the Victorian era, and then to the auctioning off for a pittance of the family's massive archive, Sister Novelists is a groundbreaking and enthralling biography of two pioneering geniuses in historical fiction.


About the Author

Devoney Looser is Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University and the author or editor of nine books on literature by women, including The Making of Jane Austen. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Salon, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly, and she’s had the pleasure of talking about Austen on CNN. Looser, who has played roller derby as Stone Cold Jane Austen, is a Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and two sons.


About the Conversation Partner 

Dr. Erin Templeton is the Dean of the College of Humanities, Sciences, and Business. She earned her BA and MA from the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and she earned her PhD in American Literature and twentieth-century British and Irish literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. She enjoys teaching American literature as well as twentieth-century literature in its many forms and varieties. Some of the classes that she has offered include seminars on twentieth-century poetry, F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, the 20th-century American novel, Contemporary American fiction, 20th century Women’s fiction, and the English department senior seminar in literary studies. She has also traveled with students to Costa Rica, Cuba, England, France, and Ireland.

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