Grad Student Summer: The Institute for World Literature

By: Gabriele Lazzari

The Institute for World Literature, created in 2011 thanks to the effort of a group of professors and scholars interested in the burgeoning debate around World Literature, was held in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 16th to July 22nd. Organized by Harvard University, and directed by David Damrosch, the Institute meets every summer in a different location, drawing together a wide-ranging academic community for an intense month of lectures, debates, and seminars.


Rutgers, as one of the founding institution of the Institute, has contributed to its development and success, and, since its inaugural session, has funded several students to participate in this intellectually stimulating experience. For graduate students in Comparative Literature the Institute has been particularly rewarding, given its global focus.

This summer I had the opportunity to be in Lisbon for a month and be part of this vibrant event, which I found challenging and intense, and yet, extremely friendly and welcoming. I attended two seminars (each lasting two weeks). Thanks to the diversity of the students and to the enthusiasm of the professors, who listened and coordinated very different takes on the readings assigned, I engaged in lively and inspiring discussions, which have helped me delve into questions that will be crucial for my future research.


Filinto Elísio, Capoverdian poet, delivers a lecture on diasporic Capoverdian writing

Apart from these intense seminars, students and scholars had the possibility to be part of an “Affinity Group.” Depending on one’s specific interests related to World Literature, every participant could choose a group and get together, rather informally, with other students working on similar topics. I personally chose “Poetics and Politics of World Literature” where I presented a paper (everyone is asked to do so) and received extremely interesting feedback. The organization and rationale of these groups is ideal, since every student is given the opportunity to share his or her work as in a conference, but without its formal and (potentially intimidating) setting.

In addition to these activities, the Institute hosted several lectures by prominent scholars of World Literature and by poets and writers, along with panels focused on relevant contemporary debates in academia, such as publishing and program design.

IWL4Zhang Longxi, Professor at the City University of Hong Kong, discusses World Literature and translation

The cultural activities and optional outings offered by the Institute, as well as the touching beauty of Lisbon, made this experience extremely rewarding and fun. The readings, discussions, and lectures have already helped me develop ideas and questions that I will continue exploring. Finally, the Institute has given me the opportunity to build a solid network of professors and graduate students from several cultural and academic backgrounds with whom I hope I’ll continue to be in conversation.