Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Sarah Berry


-What is your academic background and what is your current position at UConn?

I am a PhD candidate in the English department at UConn. I began the program in 2012. Before that, I earned a bachelor’s degree in an interdisciplinary Great Texts program from Baylor University and a master’s degree in English literature from Boston College.


-What is the project you’re currently working on?

The title of my dissertation is “The Politics of Voice in Twentieth-Century Verse Drama.” It is a transatlantic study of plays that are written in verse (instead of prose) during the last hundred years. I argue that verse drama gets revived in the twentieth century not as a genre in its own right but as a hybrid of poetry and drama, which makes it a venue for experimentation with different literary and dramatic forms as well as literary and dramatic voices. All this experimentation with voice has political implications as well, since voice is as much a political concept as a literary one. Twentieth-century playwrights use the different vocal possibilities of verse drama to respond creatively to a variety of contemporary political crises, including fascism, colonialism, the struggle for civil rights, class conflict, and sectarian violence.


-How did you arrive at this topic?

I came to this topic from an interest in weird plays: radio plays, plays with stage directions written in verse, plays in which characters blur together or become someone else. I realized that what makes these plays so weird is that they are half drama, half poetry. They combine the rules and conventions of lyric poetry with those of modern drama, but sometimes these rules and conventions contradict one another. So I set out to investigate the tension between the dramatic elements and lyric elements of these plays.



-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

My hope for this study is that it will make people rethink the relationship between poetry and drama. We often think of poetry, especially lyric poetry, as the opposite of drama, but there is a long history, right up to the present day, of the interaction between these two genres. In fact, I think our conceptions of these genres are interdependent—that is, our understanding of lyric poetry is based on shifting notions of what drama is, and our understanding of what drama is has been informed by the emergence of lyric poetry as its own genre during the nineteenth century. This study is timely in genre studies, where scholars are contesting the value of categories like the lyric. But verse drama also provides us with an opportunity to think more broadly about the way that genres are created and reinforced.

I also hope that my study will demonstrate the inextricable relationship between form and genre on the one hand and politics on the other. Genre theory can sometimes seem abstract—or only of interest to literature scholars—but I think these plays show that questions of genre are necessarily intertwined with questions of politics, specifically through voice, which is always both literary and political.