Jenna Lay studies early modern English literature, with specific attention to post-Reformation religious culture, poetry and poetics, female authors, and the intersection of manuscript and print technologies. After receiving her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2009, she was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. Her first book, Beyond the Cloister: Catholic Englishwomen and Early Modern Literary Culture, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2016.
Beyond the Cloister demonstrates that nuns and recusant women, whom we might imagine as marginal figures because of their gender and religion, are centrally important to an enriched understanding of how literature works in the early modern period and how our own critical perspective has been shaped by the texts at the heart of our canon and by a limited understanding of the expansive literary history that those texts have rendered illegible. The archival work for this project was supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Historical Research in London, the Huntington Library, the Renaissance Society of America, Stanford University, and Lehigh University. Professor Lay’s next book project, Writing for the Future, will explore key concepts that structure our present moment (networks, sexuality, secularism, science, climate) from the perspective of women writing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Professor Lay’s other research and professional interests focus on graduate education in the humanities. She has served as the English Department’s job placement officer and its Director of Graduate Studies. In 2016, she led a Lehigh University task force on graduate education, and she was the project director for Lehigh’s NEH Next Generation PhD Planning Grant in 2016-17. Professor Lay has worked with the ADE and MLA on issues related to graduate education, and she co-directed a preseminar workshop for directors of graduate study at the 2017 ADE Summer Seminar and a preseminar workshop on graduate curricula and careers at the 2018 ADE/ADFL Summer Seminar. She has led workshops and given talks on graduate education for graduate students and faculty at institutions such as Binghamton University, the University of Alabama, Iowa University, and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Professor Lay is a College of Arts and Sciences representative to Lehigh’s Faculty Senate, and she serves as the College’s Director of Special Programs, a role in which she oversees the Eckardt, IDEAS, and Arts/Engineering programs.