Elizabeth Outka

UR professor receives top state honor

March 11, 2024


Students in English professor Elizabeth Outka’s classes can be sure of one thing: They’ll have the books they need regardless of whether they can afford them.

“The books just show up, if needed,” Outka said. “I’ve been so fortunate to have several lines of resources over the years through the university and other sources to make this happen.”

Outka describes literature as a basic human need.  

English professor Elizabeth Outka focuses on 20th century literature and culture in her scholarship and teaching.

“We live in a world of stories. Some true, some enriching, some challenging, and students need ways to read these stories,” said Outka, the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of Humanities. “They need what literature has to offer. How, from an often chaotic and unjust world, we might shape meaning.”

Outka was recently named an Outstanding Faculty Award recipient by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The award includes a $7,500 prize that she plans to use as one more source of revenue to provide books for students who need them. She was honored at an event in March.

“Elizabeth is one of the most accomplished, dynamic, and versatile specialists working today in the broad area of literary modernism,” said Jenny Cavenaugh, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. “Her work goes well beyond her students. Earlier this semester, she co-coordinated the first UR faculty and staff research symposium, yet another avenue through which she is engaged in enhancing the intellectual life of our campus community.”

The SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Awards are the highest honor for faculty at Virginia's public and private colleges and universities, recognizing superior accomplishments in teaching, research, and public service. Nominees are selected by their institutions, reviewed by a panel of peers, and chosen by a committee of leaders from the public and private sectors. 

Outka has been teaching at UR since 2008. Her scholarship and teaching focus on 20th-century literature and culture. Her latest book, the award-winning Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature, investigates how the deadly 1918-1919 influenza pandemic reshaped the modernist era. She has written on topics ranging from consumer culture and postcolonial representations of trauma to disability studies.

“I have spent my career advocating for the importance of the humanities and for the vital role literature plays in reimagining our worlds, easing our isolation, alerting us to complexity and nuance, and connecting us to other lives,” Outka said. “I remind students that literature is not a secret language they have to decode. It is a force that shapes and produces culture and meaning.”