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Christopher Kempf

Profile picture for Christopher Kempf

Contact Information

English Building
Office 349

Office Hours

Fall 2020: MW 2:30 - 4:30 or by appointment
Assistant Professor



Christopher Kempf is the author of the poetry collections What Though the Field Be Lost (LSU, 2021) and Late in the Empire of Men (Four Way, 2017).  His scholarly book, Writing Craft: The Workshop in American Culture, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Recipient of a Pushcart Prize, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, his poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Best American Poetry (2020), Boston ReviewGeorgia ReviewGettysburg ReviewKenyon ReviewNew England ReviewThe New Republic, and PEN America, among others.  His scholarship appears in American Literary History (ALH), English Literary History (ELH), and Modernism/modernity.

Kempf holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Chicago, an MFA from Cornell University, and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.

Research Interests

Creative Writing | Poetry and Poetics | Creative Nonfiction | American Literature | Modernism | Labor Studies | Creative Writing Studies

Research Description

My poetry and creative nonfiction examine the role of aesthetics in the curation of national identity.  My first book, Late in the Empire of Men, tracks my coming-of-age in Ohio and California against the westward trajectory of U.S. history, a trajectory I situate within a larger context of racial and ecological imperialism.  My second book, What Though the Field Be Lost, interrogates the rhetorical construction of the past at sites of public remembrance.  Organized around my time living in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the collection uses the battlefield there to engage ongoing issues involving race, regional identity, and the ethics of memory, tracing how post-bellum memorial practices (like monument construction) advance hegemonic notions of whiteness.  In similar fashion, my essay collection-in-progress, Local Color, analyzes local rites, mythologies, traditions, and economies which serve as sources of mutual sustainability even as they advance distinct orders of violence.  While the book explores “the local” as a corrective to nationalism and as an alternative to the placelessness of global capital, it also excavates cultural forms (such as high-school football) which refract and reproduce larger, often pernicious ideologies of nation, race, and class.

My scholarly research focuses on the interrelation between work and writing.  I am interested, in particular, in how and why manual labor is invoked as a metaphor for literary production across the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  This figuration has ancient origins, of course, but it finds immediate expression, during this period, in the creative writing “workshop.”  Where does this term originate, I ask, and to what ends?  How do techniques such as structure, texture, and tone come to be thought of as creative writing “craft,” as strict, technical construction in the brick and mortar of language?  For there is nothing inherent in creative writing that precludes one from practicing it in a “salon” or “studio” or “seminar.”  There is nothing in the discipline that necessitates a craft-based approach over one based on affective response or literary history or even poetic theory.  With the rise of the workshop system in American culture, however, work and writing were welded together like steel plates—my research inspects that weld.  My book, Writing Craft: The Workshop in American Culture (Johns Hopkins, 2022), argues that, despite growing interest in creative writing studies, the discipline’s central practice and primary institutional form, the workshop, has remained invisible before our scholarly eyes.  Taking seriously the cultural resonances of that term, including its correlation of literary and material production, my work revitalizes the dead metaphor at the heart of creative writing—what is at stake, I ask, in the figuration of writing as craft labor?  On whose behalf does the poet punch in?


Ph.D. in English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago (2020),
Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry, Stanford University (2014),
MFA in Poetry, Cornell University (2009),

Awards and Honors

Pushcart Prize, 2018

National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 2015

Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry, 2012-2014

Courses Taught

CW 106  Poetry Writing I

CW 208  Creative Nonfiction Writing

CW 463  Creative Cartographies: Place in Poetry and Creative Nonfiction

Additional Campus Affiliations

Assistant Professor, English

Highlighted Publications

Writing Craft: The Workshop in American Culture (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022)

What Though the Field Be Lost: Poems (LSU Press, 2021)

Late in the Empire of Men (Four Way, 2017)

Recent Publications

Kempf, C. (2022). These Ithacas. Missouri Review, 45(2), 22-41.

Kempf, C. (2021). "A Vast University of the Common People": Meridel Le Sueur and the Crafting of the Nineteen-Thirties Literary Left. ELH - English Literary History, 88(1), 225-250.

Kempf, C. (2021). What Though the Field Be Lost: Poems. LSU Press.

Kempf, C. (2020). National Anthem, and: Homecoming. Pleiades: Literature in Context, 40(2), 15-18.

Kempf, C. (2020). The Play’s a Thing: The 47 Workshop and the “Crafting” of Creative Writing. American Literary History, 32(2), 243-272.

View all publications on Illinois Experts