University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Deborah Baker, Seminar & Workshop on "Narrative in the Age of Political Extremism"

March 16, 2020

Spring Seminar with IHGC Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, Deborah Baker

 “Narrative in the Age of Political Extremism”


March 16 (Mon), March 23 (Mon),

March 30 (Mon) and April 6 (Mon)


Time: 3.00-5.00pm

Venue: Wilson 142

(except for March 16 - Wilson 117)


We are living in a time of rising extremism and increasing polarization around the world.  This trend has been accompanied by acts of millenarian terror, generally committed by men who believe themselves and their identities and beliefs to be facing an existential threat.  What narrative strategies can be used to dramatize the conflict between those who want to destroy civil society, replacing civic norms with ones in which they are the unquestioned arbiters, and those who seek to protect the status quo? In this seminar we will look at works of fiction and narrative non-fiction that have captured this struggle in all its moral, political, and historical dimensions.


Reading list:

The Convert by Deborah Baker (narrative non-fiction)

One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway by Asne Sierstad  (narrative non-fiction)

American War by Omar el Akkad (futurist fiction)

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (speculative fiction)

Defying Hitler by Sebastien Haffner  (posthumous memoir)


The seminar will be capped at 20 participants, and the books will be provided to all, either as digital copies or in print, by the end of February 2020. The call will close on February 24.


Please register here:



Bio: Deborah Baker was born in Charlottesville and grew up in Virginia, Puerto Rico and New England.  She attended the University of Virginia and the University of Cambridge.  Her first biography, written in college, was Making a Farm: The Life of Robert Bly, published by Beacon Press in 1982. After working a number of years as a book editor and publisher, in 1990 she moved to Calcutta where she wrote In Extremis; The Life of Laura Riding.  Published by Grove Press and Hamish Hamilton in the UK, it was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 1994.  Her third book, A Blue Hand: The Beats in India was published by Penguin Press USA and Penguin India in 2008. In 2008–2009 she was a Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis C. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at The New York Public Library.  There she researched and wrote The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, a narrative account of the life of an American convert to Islam, drawn on letters on deposit in the library’s manuscript division. The Convert, published by Graywolf and Penguin India, was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award in Non-Fiction. In August 2018, Baker published her fifth work of non-fiction, The Last Englishmen: Love, War and the End of Empire. She has two children and is married to the writer Amitav Ghosh. They divide their time between Brooklyn and Goa.

Homer Statue
Wilson Hall 142