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Austen fandom at core of English professor's work

September 19, 2013

Jane Austen fans have a professor to look up to at ASU, not only because Devoney Looser has written widely about the British novelist and is an award-winning teacher; Looser, an athlete and mother of two young boys, also has the distinction of being known as Stone Cold Jane Austen in the Arizona Roller Derby league, AZRD.

That aspect of her personal life gets the most attention in the media, but the highly-regarded English professor is the author of two books about British women writers and is now at work on a book on Jane Austen and the women’s movement.

She comes to ASU from the University of Missouri, where she was the Catherine P. Middlebush Chair of English.

Looser has held a number of fellowships, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the American Philosophical Society, the Huntington Library, the Newberry Library and others.

“My work on Jane Austen and the hundreds of British women writers who came before and after her tries to explain how the past has brought us to the present,” says Looser. “Why is Jane Austen so popular today, when so many of her once-celebrated female contemporaries have been forgotten? These questions have everything to do with the history of women and literature, as well as the advances of, and setbacks to feminism.”

She has been invited to speak in recent years at the University of Cambridge, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Sorbonne and Columbia University.

But the honor that’s given her the most pleasure is learning that she got her own square in the New York Times’ board game, The Janeiac Game, last month. The tongue-in-cheek square read: “Stone Cold Jane Austen, roller derby avatar of the literary scholar Devoney Looser, gives tips on Regency-appropriate body-checking.”

“I love the athletic and theatrical aspects of roller derby, as well as the incredible community of women the sport attracts,” says Looser, who has been mentioned in stories about Austen fandom in the New York Post, the Christian Science Monitor and O! Magazine.

“Having discovered the sport and a new alter ego has been a great mid-life adventure. I’m still acquiring skills, but I hope that more ASU-affiliated fans will come out and see my league compete. I’m always game to introduce new women to the sport, even if they can’t roller skate yet.”

Having been at ASU as a visiting professor 12 years ago, Looser is pleased to see ASU’s growth: “ASU’s emphasis on research excellence and student access is a perfect fit for my own professional aspirations.”