Dr Stella Bolaki
Co-Director of the Centre for Health and Medical Humanities
BA, Athens; MSc, PhD, Edinburgh
Dr Stella Bolaki is Reader in American Literature and Medical Humanities in the School of English and Co-Director of the Centre for Health and Medical Humanities in the Division of Arts and Humanities.
She joined the University of Kent in 2011. Previously, she was Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, having taught before that at the University of Edinburgh, where she also completed her MSc and PhD. She has held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) and has been Co-Director of Scottish Universities’ International Summer School (SUISS), which offers courses in literature and creative writing.
Stella’s primary research specialisms are in narratives of illness and disability, critical medical humanities and in ethnic American literature. They further include Black feminist studies and cultural theory. Her first monograph Unsettling the Bildungsroman: Reading Contemporary Ethnic American Women’s Fiction (Rodopi, 2011) considers the continuing relevance of the Bildungsroman (or coming-of-age narrative) in an ethnic American and postcolonial context, focusing on the work of Jamaica Kincaid, Sandra Cisneros, Maxine Hong Kingston and Audre Lorde. Stella has also co-edited Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies (University of Massachusetts Press, 2015) that documents the influence of Lorde’s writing and activism beyond the United States.
Stella’s second monograph Illness as Many Narratives: Arts, Medicine and Culture (Edinburgh University Press, 2016) is part of her medical humanities research that has focused on the category of illness experience and its significance in the field. Shifting attention beyond traditional narrative/literary modes of communicating illness experience that have dominated medical humanities, the book considers a wide variety of media and artistic forms including photography, performance art, film, theatre, animation and online narratives. The exhibition catalogue and volume of essays Prescriptions: Artists’ books on wellbeing and medicine (Natrix Natrix Press 2017) she has co-edited develops this interest in visual and multimodal forms of representing illness through a specific focus on artists’ books. Stella’s work has appeared in journals such as Literature and Medicine, Mosaic, Medical Humanities, Textual Practice, the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies and Life Writing.
Stella’s research on contemporary artistic practice in the context of health, illness and disability has a collaborative and public engagement dimension, and has received funding from the Wellcome Trust and the British Academy. Her interdisciplinary project Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities established the Prescriptions: Artists’ Books special collection that has informed exhibitions, creative workshops, teaching provision at Kent and PhD training programmes (such as CHASE’s training programme). Ideas relating to her research on artists’ books have appeared in a guest-edited special issue for the Journal of Medical Humanities, essays for the Routledge Companion to Literature and Disability and the Routledge Handbook of the Medical Humanities, as well as in blog posts for The Polyphony and the British Academy. More recently, in collaboration with the School of Law at the University of Essex, she has explored the uses of artists’ books in practice-based participatory research that focuses on the experiences and wellbeing of mothers whose children have been adopted without their consent.
Stella is working on a new monograph that explores how ideas and practices of self-care are interrogated and articulated in contemporary literature and culture, across different genres and cross-media representations. This project draws on historical, philosophical, medical, activist and other interdisciplinary material. In addition to supporting various collaborative research projects led by Kent’s Centre for Health and Medical Humanities, she is on the steering committee of the Eastern Arc Medical and Health Humanities Network and of one of the network’s funded projects, Articulation / Experience / Embodiment.
Stella teaches a variety of modules in American and contemporary literature for the School of English and contributes to health and medical humanities teaching for the Kent and Medway Medical School. She is also the Director of Kent’s MA in Medical Humanities. Her approach to teaching has been shaped by her interdisciplinary research interests, collaboration and outreach. Stella is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) and has served as external examiner for taught programmes and PhDs in several institutions.
Stella has supervised PhDs on a wide range of topics including literature and neuroscience, speculative fiction, crafts and making as affective social practices, mental health across different media, addiction, disability and illness in postcolonial fiction, and creative/critical writing projects exploring the body and embodied practices. She was successful in securing a CHASE-funded collaborative doctoral award to co-supervise a project on the culture, politics and lived experience of health in Wellcome Collection’s zines. She would be keen to supervise doctoral and postdoctoral research relating to any of her research interests and enjoys working as part of cross-disciplinary supervisory teams. She would particularly welcome topics informed by the medical/health humanities and disability studies.
Stella is on the editorial board of the Contemporary Cultural Studies in Illness, Health and Medicine series (Edinburgh University Press), and acts as Editorial Adviser for the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies. She has peer-reviewed for various publishers and journals, including the University of Massachusetts Press, the University of Toronto Press, Palgrave, Literature and Medicine, Medical Humanities, Contemporary Women’s Writing, Studies in the Novel, MELUS, Journal of American Studies, Symbiosis, and The Year’s Work in English Studies.
Stella is member of The Collegium for African American Research, The Feminist Studies Association, the Association for Medical Humanities, the Materialities of Care Research Network, the International Health Humanities Network, the Northern Network for Medical Humanities, and SAVAnT, the CHASE doctoral school in American art and visual culture. As a member of the advisory board of the Kent Medical Humanities Network, she co-organises an annual regional medical humanities conference and works closely with Leads in medical humanities and medical education from Kent NHS Trusts.
Stella has co-organised and participated in numerous academic symposia and public engagement events, including: ‘Audre Lorde’s Legacy: A Film and Cultural Festival’ (2012); ‘Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities’ (2016); ‘The Art of Dying Well’ roundtable, hosted by Pilgrims Hospices for Kent’s International Arts Festival (2017); ‘Tell me What Hurts: Storytelling and the Healing Arts’ (Maine Women Writers Collection, University of New England, 2018), the British Academy’s Summer Showcase (2019); and ‘Mending the Psyche: Art as Reparation’ (Birkbeck, University of London, 2022).
Stella’s administrative experience at Kent has included the roles of Internationalisation Director in the School of English, Deputy Director of PhD studies in the Centre for American Studies, and Chair of the Research Ethics Advisory Group in the Division of Arts and Humanities. She has also served as Academic Mentor for the Eastern ARC Mentoring Scheme.
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