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A 2-day Symposium at the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of London 
Thursday, 18 – Friday, 19 April 2024

Keynote Speakers: Valentina Glajar (Texas State University); Lyn Marven (University of Liverpool)

Closing date for submission of abstracts: 15 November 2023

2024 marks the 40th anniversary of the West German publication of Herta Müller’s first collection Niederungen (Nadirs) by Rotbuch Verlag in West Berlin, originally published under the same title by Kriterion in Bucharest in 1982. This first publication in Germany, far away from Romanian censors, earned Müller the Aspekte Literature Prize in 1984 and the Rauriser Literature Prize in 1985, and marked a turning point in her life and career, foreshadowing her own personal and literary trajectory. At the time,Müller lived in constant fear of being monitored and threatened by the Securitate, the Romanian secret police, refusing to collaborate as a state informer. After fleeing Romania in 1987, West Berlin became Müller’s safe haven that allowed her to become an internationally acclaimed writer. Her work has been translated into many languages, has garnered numerous awards and culminated in her receiving the Nobel Prize in 2009, solidifying her position as a literary icon.

Mirroring the resilience of Niederungen’s publication history, Müller’s life and work journey is to be seen as a testament to the power of literature to resist totalitarianism and inspire hope. Rooted in autofiction, her novels, essays and collages deliver incisive political observations that shed light on complex and haunting historical events in 20th-century Europe, events that continue to resonate with current socio-political issues. With her sharp, poetic prose and accompanying verbal imagery, Müller has developed a unique writing style that focuses on detail rather than on the whole, a literary strategy that evokes an 'aesthetics of resistance' that shatters and defies all forms of totalitarianism in portraying the debilitating lives of ordinary people on the margins of tyrannical regimes. In recent years, Müller has used her global recognition as a Nobel laureate to draw attention to social and political matters in Germany and beyond. Her vocal criticism of intolerant ideologies and totalitarian aspirations serves as an inspiration to those seeking refuge, freedom, and democracy. This position remains urgent and relevant in the 21st century, especially given the increasing prevalence of populism, autocracy, and armed conflict worldwide.

Marking Müller’s more than four decades of literary engagement and the 15th anniversary of her Nobel Prize, we invite Müller scholars to submit proposals for papers of 20 minutes (in English or German) which consider Müller’s life and work. Topics that might be fruitfully considered include:

  • Niederungen at 40: revisiting Müller’s debut work
  • Müller’s aesthetics of resistance and political engagement
  • Language and literary techniques
  • Müller in translation
  • Marginalized experiences: gender, sexuality, and identity
  • Ethnolinguistic minorities and transnational experiences
  • Migration, deportation, and exile
  • The notion of Heimat
  • Trauma and memory
  • Legacies of totalitarianism
  • Intertextuality and autofiction
  • Müller’s oeuvre in the German literary canon and in world literature

We welcome submissions from established scholars, graduate students, as well as creative writers and translators who have been inspired by Müller's life and body of work. Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words, along with a short biography and contact information, to by 15 November 2023. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 30 November 2023.

Following the conference, a peer-reviewed publication with a curated selection of the best contributions is planned. 

Image: Herta Müller, 2019 (photo by Jindřich Nosek [NoJin] via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)