Grace McGowan

Classical aesthetic reception in African-American literature

  • Title Classical aesthetic reception in African-American literature
  • Education BA in English, Oxford University

Grace McGowan is currently a PhD candidate at Boston University in the American & New England Studies Program. She took her undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature from University of Oxford in 2017. Her dissertation “Venus Worked in Bronze: African-American Women’s Writing and the Classical Tradition” explores how Black women have reclaimed the figure of Venus and influenced and critiqued American beauty culture. Her dissertation combines literary analysis, classical reception theory, material culture approaches, and Black feminist thought to illustrate the pivotal role Black women’s artistic and cultural production has played in shaping American classicism. 

Her article, “I Know I Can’t Change the Future, But I Can Change the Past: Toni Morrison, Robin Coste Lewis, and the Classical Tradition”, was published in the journal Contemporary Women’s Writing under OUP in 2020. She has also written on how Black feminist approaches to Ovidian metamorphoses can open new ground in material culture studies in her 2022 article “Ovid Rewritten: Objectification, Fragmentation, and Transformation in the Writing of Toni Morrison and Robin Coste Lewis” for Stanford Arcade’s colloquium New Directions in Thing Theory.  Her thinkpiece “In ‘Rumors’, Lizzo and Cardi B Pull From the Ancient Greeks, Putting a New Spin on an Old Tradition” was published both online in The Conversation and in print with The Boston Globe and reached a readership of over one million people. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming edited volume The Living Legacy of African-American Studies: Its Past, Present, and Future(s) which is under review at University of Georgia Press.

Her work has been recognized by awarding bodies as her chapter on Phillis Wheatley was awarded an honorable mention for the Mary Kelley prize under the New England American Studies Association in 2021 and she received the Graduate Student Award from Boston University’s Center for the Humanities in 2022. She also held the William V Shannon memorial fellowship at Boston University in 2021.

Grace is a proud first-gen and low income scholar. She works closely with the Newbury Center for First-Generation Students at Boston University and her Instagram, @phdoingmydamnbest, aims to demystify academia and help other scholars navigate the space. Her digital outreach and scholarly community-building also includes serving as guest host of the podcast Vitamin PhD and founding Ampersand: An American Studies Journal which operates out of her home program. For more on Grace, see


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