James Phelan
Department of English
Ohio State University
421 Denney Hall
164 West 17th Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43210-1370
(614) 292-6065
(614) 292-7816 (Fax)




James Phelan is Distinguished University Professor and Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor in the Department of English at Ohio State University. Born in Flushing, NY in 1951, he received his BA from Boston College (1972) and his MA and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1977). He began as an Assistant Professor at Ohio State in 1977, was promoted to Associate Professor in 1983, to Professor in 1989, to Humanities Distinguished Professor in 2004, and to Distinguished University Professor in 2008. In 2004 he received the University’s Distinguished Research Award and in 2007 the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award. Phelan served as Department Chair from 1994-2002.

Rather than working in only one historical period, Phelan gravitates toward theoretical issues or problems, most often connected with the genre of narrative, and pursues them in texts from different periods. His recent work, however, has focused primarily on twentieth-century British and American narrative, and he now claims the twentieth-century as a specialty. Much of his research has been devoted to developing a comprehensive rhetorical theory of narrative.  He  has written about style in Worlds from Words, about character and narrative progression in Reading People, Reading Plots, about technique, ethics, and audiences in Narrative as Rhetoric, about character narration in Living to Tell about It, and about progression (again) and reader judgments in Experiencing Fiction.  His forthcoming book, Reading the American Novel, 1920-2010, offers rhetorical readings of ten canonical novels written across this ninety year period.

Phelan has contributed a new chapter on “Narrative Theory, 1966-2006″ for the 40th Anniversary edition of Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg’s landmark book, The Nature of Narrative.  In addition, he collaborated with David Herman, Peter J. Rabinowitz, Brian Richardson, and Robyn Warhol on Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates(Phelan and Rabinowitz co-authored the sections of that book on rhetorical theory.)  Phelan has published well over a hundred essays and the autobiographical journal Beyond the Tenure Track.

Phelan’s editorial work is also extensive.  He has edited or co-edited seven volumes in narrative studies: Reading Narrative, the Blackwell Companion to Narrative (with Peter J.Rabinowitz), Joseph Conrad (with Jakob Lothe and Jeremy Hawthorn), Teaching Narrative Theory (with Brian McHale and David Herman), Fact, Fiction, and Form: Selected Essays of Ralph W. Rader (with David Richter), and After Testimony:  The Ethics and Aesthetics of Holocaust Narrative for the Future (with Jakob Lothe and Susan Suleiman).  In addition, with Gerald Graff, he has edited Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy, which was awarded the 1997 Nancy Dasher Award by the College English Association of Ohio as the best book on pedagogy from an Ohio faculty member for 1994-96, and The Tempest: A Case Study in Critical Controversy.

Since 1992, Phelan has been the editor of Narrative, the journal of the International Society for the Study of Narrative and winner of the 1993 CELJ Award for Best New Journal. Since 1993, he has been co-editor, with Peter J. Rabinowitz, and since 2010, with Robyn Warhol, of the Ohio State University Press series on the Theory and Interpretation of Narrative.  The series has now published over 35 books.

In September 2013, Phelan was awarded an honorary degree from Aarhus University for his contribution to narrative studies. To view a video detailing his achievements, click here.


Reading the American Novel, 1920-2010. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates. With Brian Richardson, David Herman, Robyn Warhol, and Peter J. Rabinowitz. Ohio State University Press, 2012.

Experiencing Fiction: Judgments, Progressions, and the Rhetorical Theory of NarrativeOhio State University Press, 2007.

The Nature of Narrative. With Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg. 2nd Edition.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Scholes has written a new preface and made minor alterations in the original text; I have written a substantial new chapter on developments in narrative theory since 1966.

A Companion to Narrative Theory. Co-edited with Peter J. Rabinowitz.  Malden: Blackwell, 2005.

Living To Tell About It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.

The Tempest:  A Case Study in Critical Controversy. Co-edited with Gerald Graff. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

Narrative as Rhetoric: Technique, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1996.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy. Co-edited with Gerald Graff. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995.

Understanding Narrative. Co-edited with Peter J. Rabinowitz. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994.

Beyond the Tenure Track: Fifteen Months in the Life of an English Professor. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1991.

Reading People, Reading Plots: Character, Progression, and the Interpretation of Narrative. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Reading Narrative: Form, Ethics, Ideology. Editor. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989.

Worlds from Words: A Theory of Language in Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

For complete vita, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *