Kent State Emerita English Professor Wins APsaA Prize Highlighting Literature in Psychoanalysis

Vera J. Camden, emerita professor of English at Kent State University, has posed a few questions for academia upon receiving a national award for her edited book. Should the sciences intertwine with literature and why is it of so much importance?

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Dr. Vera Camden

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Camden’s research specialties include studies in literature, theory, and popular culture. In the 1980s, Camden jumped at the opportunity to undergo psychoanalytic training when faculty from the Kent State Department of English received an Academic Challenge Grant from the State of Ohio. This distinction added fuel to the fire of her passion for psychoanalysis that she had brought with her to Kent from her graduate program at the University of Virginia. This eventually led her to becoming a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst at the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center as well as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University. She recently won the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) Book Prize for The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Psychoanalysis, an edited collection of 16 essays meant to reflect the diversification of the respective interdisciplinary fields.

The research for this volume was supported by the Kent State University Research Council. As editor, Camden, alongside her research assistant Valentino Zullo, a 2020 Kent State English Ph.D. graduate, commissioned and compiled essays from a variety of authors from diverse academic fields. These authors wrote about many major literary authors, including Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin; contemporary novelists from Latin America, Pakistan; cutting edge graphic novelists and independent film directors from the United Kingdom—and many others!

“One of the outstanding features about this volume is that the essays we put together are extremely diverse,” Camden said, “Not only does it represent the field, but also the future of the field and I think that this is important.”

As the editor, Camden wrote the introduction which not only gives an outlook on the field's future but context to its past.

“We wanted to represent as best we could the look of literature today and that of course will always include historical works.” Camden said.

“The biggest challenge was that when we originally compiled the volume, we had 36 chapters,” Zullo added. “Cutting the chapters down and choosing what was really representative was a very hard thing to do.”

About the APsaA Prize
“What they’re recognizing in the APsaA prize are any books that foster interdisciplinary conversations between psychoanalysis as a clinical practice and psychoanalysis as a theoretical construct,” Camden said. “The prize is meant to bring together the fields that are represented within interdisciplinary academic study while highlighting the intersections of psychoanalysis as a model of the mind and a clinical practice, with real life consequences.”

“The books that this prize has honored over the decades are all extremely significant as they foster Freud’s original vision of psychoanalysis as a field that is not only clinical but also cultural and social,” Camden said. “Freud and those analysts who follow in his legacy saw psychoanalysis as a method of thinking and way of viewing the world that can encompass the ability to interpret all cultures and times.  I am not ashamed to say that I think psychoanalysis—done right—is universal.”

Camden and Zullo both attended the awards ceremony at the Peter Loewenberg Prize Lecture. Camden had previously contributed to the founding of the 25-year-old lecture as a committee member in the APsaA.

“I was honestly surprised to see the book receive the award because I think that we as an association generally venerate the sciences so much; indeed psychoanalysis today often venerates the sciences, so I was pleased that they would recognize that literature has a significant role both today and within the future field of psychoanalysis,” Zullo said.

The Future
Camden emphasized the importance of teaching and mentoring in her career at Kent State and beyond.

“I think that in every way, students like Valentino (Zullo) perpetuate the vision, the future of psychoanalysis, that we have worked on together throughout his entire career,” Camden said. “His current position as Anisfield Wolf Fellow at Ursuline College is so promising and exciting. I feel like the future is very much within the people that you teach and impact, who carry on your vision and spark their own.”

“I’m interested in people reckoning with the fact that the humanities can create innovation beyond the sciences, the sciences rely heavily on replicability,” Zullo said. “But I think art always aims for innovation, meaning that every work or form of art can teach us something different.”

Camden hopes to continue her scholarship in literary fields of the Early Modern English literature, which is “where her heart is,” but she also intends to continue to practice and write in the field of psychoanalysis, while also studying contemporary comics and popular culture.

“Psychoanalysis has always given me a way to understand creativity, and a way to understand the intersection of individual and social expressions,” Camden said.

Camden also plans to eventually release another book regarding how literature is used in practice within clinical psychoanalytic work. She strongly believes that students within science and medical fields should also be reading novels on top of diagnostic manuals and textbooks.

Since winning the APsaA prize, Camden has attended the Taylor Swiftposium in Australia to present her studies on Taylor Swift and popular culture while enjoying her retirement. She and Zullo also will be conducting a live interview with American cartoonist Raina Telgemeier in front of a psychoanalytic panel of ApsaA next year in San Francisco.

“You know, Valentino and I are all about Shakespeare and company!” Camden said. “But I believe we need to also see what is going on around us in our own world, and how that very Shakespearean tradition and spirit is venerated in popular culture, in clinical practice and above all in literature.”

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Media Contact: 
Jim Maxwell, JMAXWEL2@kent.edut, 330-672-8028

POSTED: Friday, April 26, 2024 05:08 PM
Updated: Friday, April 26, 2024 05:27 PM
Lexi Moses