Literary and Critical Theory Annette Kolodny
Stephanie A. Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0066


Annette Kolodny (b. 21 August 1941) is an American literary and cultural critic and College of Humanities Professor Emerita of American Literature and Culture at the University of Arizona. Kolodny’s early feminist work in the 1970s influenced a later generation of writers and scholars, particularly in the fields of feminist theory, eco-criticism, literary-environmental studies, and eco-feminism. During her long and distinguished career, she has held faculty appointments at Yale University, the University of British Columbia, the University of New Hampshire, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. From 1988 to 1993, she served as dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona. Her books and essays have received awards in the United States and abroad, and she has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Born in New York City, Kolodny received a bachelor’s degree from the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (1962) and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Berkeley (1965 and 1969). Kolodny is perhaps most well known for combining political, social, and personal history and writing about feminist praxis and theory, women and minorities in higher education, and the environment. However, over the course of her career, Kolodny has also interrogated the way in which American literary and cultural histories have been dominated by masculinist rhetoric and discursive frameworks. Kolodny’s personal experiences with discrimination in higher education include winning a judgement against the University of New Hampshire, which she accused of judgement and sex discrimination in denying her tenure, in a case that set important legal precedents. She also wrote about her experience as a dean of humanities at the University of Arizona, constructing practical strategies for boosting diversity by furthering the inclusion of women and minorities. In 2002, the Modern Language Association awarded her the Jay B. Hubbell Medal for lifetime achievement in American literary studies. Also in 2002, the American Studies Association (ASA) founded the Annette Kolodny Environmental Studies Prize, given annually to the best environmentally oriented paper delivered at the ASA’s meeting. In 2007, she retired but then turned her critical eye on Native American studies, making several important contributions to this field.

General Overviews and Biography

Because Kolodny’s life and work are so deeply intertwined, any attempt to separate her critical thinking from her biography is to do her, and her work, an injustice. Kolodny drew on her own experiences of sexual and ethnic discrimination to construct her most influential works, as reflected in Leitch 2001 and Groden and Kreiswirth 1994. Although a book-length study of Kolodny’s career and critical influence or a full-length biography have not been written as of the mid-2010s, concise overviews of her influence can be found in Leitch 2001 and Groden and Kreiswirth 1994 and information about her life in Jay 1988, A Tribute to Annette Kolodny 1998, and Annette Kolodny.

  • “Annette Kolodny.” In Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature. Vol. 1. Edited by Phillip Leininger, Barbara Perkins, and George B. Perkins, 572. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

    A short encyclopedia entry on Kolodny’s life and influence.

  • Annette Kolodny. The International Literary Quarterly. July 20, 1998.

    A useful online biographical introduction to Kolodny’s life and work, a place for a research project to begin.

  • Annette Kolodny: American Literary Critic. Encyclopaedia Britannica. July 20, 1998

    A very useful introductory biography, updated in 2018, with a brief annotation of her 1998 book, Failing the Future.

  • Groden, Michael, and Martin Kreiswirth, eds. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

    A comprehensive and ambitious “master narrative” of the entire international or global field of literary theory and criticism from St. Augustine to the fin de siècle of the 20th century in which Kolodny is treated as a founding voice in the field of feminist literary criticism.

  • Hubbell Medal 2002: Annette Kolodny. Hubbell Award Committee and the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association.

    A biographical lifetime achievement tribute awarded to Annette Kolodny in 2002.

  • Jay, Gregory, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 67, Modern American Critics since 1955. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988.

    A multivolume series still issued by Gale Research that offers a biographical overview of the fields of literature, literary criticism, and cultural criticism, both in print and online by subscription. Susan Koppleman wrote the brief entry on Annette Kolodny, see pp. 207–213.

  • Leitch, Vincent B. “Annette Kolodny.” In The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Edited by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke, and B. Johnson, 2143–2146. New York: Norton, 2001.

    Possibly the most thorough and succinct overview of Kolodny’s career and critical influence.

  • Richter, David, ed. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Boston and New York: St. Martin’s, 1998.

    A comprehensive anthology of major authors and documents in both literary criticism and theory, from Plato to the end of the 20th century, featuring a useful critical apparatus, including introductions, headnotes, bibliographies, and glosses that locate Kolodny as a foundational theorist in feminist studies.

  • “A Tribute to Annette Kolodny: Honored Scholar of Early American Literature.” Early American Literature 33.1 (Winter 1998): 1–5.

    A historical tribute to the life, career, and influence of Annette Kolodny, written at the end of the 20th century. However, it does not reflect on the whole of her career.

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