The Pop Culture Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe


American/Diaspora / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

Derek McGrath (SUNY University at Buffalo)

Edgar Allan Poe remains an integral part of the literary canon, for his contributions to the short story, the poem, and the American Gothic. His texts assume a variety of forms—lyric, critical essay, detective story, and even a novel. The themes and styles he employs develop from and persist in works by authors from numerous diverse backgrounds, touching upon issues that resonate in topics about gender, sexuality, religion, and race that define culture in the United States. Scholars such as Nina Baym, Leland Person, and John E. Reilly have demonstrated how Poe, keenly aware of his many audiences, placed his writing into both highbrow and middlebrow periodicals so as to attract a wide range of readers.

It is understandable, then, why Poe’s presence persists in the style, characters, and plots of later works in popular culture. More recent creators of mainstream entertainment use allusions to Poe’s works as representative shorthand and perhaps to lend gravitas to their works: examples range from the music of Lou Reed and Lady Gaga to comics like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, films like Inception, and television such as The Simpsons.

Recent volumes written about Poe in popular culture, such as Adapting Poe: Re-Imaginings in Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) and The Tell-Tale Art: Poe in Modern Popular Culture (McFarland, 2012) demonstrate that this session can attract a significant number of well-argued submissions, especially when NeMLA is hosting this convention in one of Poe’s hometowns, Baltimore. This session’s focus on both nineteenth-century and contemporary literature and culture can attract scholars from a range of fields, methodologies, even languages for an enthusiastic discussion. Finally, this session can foster discussion about how we as teachers can draw upon more recent works in popular culture to better demonstrate the continued relevance Poe has on contemporary literature and culture.

Edgar Allan Poe is a zombie: his themes, tropes, stories, tone, and arguments persist long after his death, not only in subsequent poetry, short stories, and criticism but also in film, television, music, and new media. This session welcomes approaches to reading Poe’s influence forward into later popular culture, in particular strategies for incorporating works of current popular culture in the classroom when teaching Poe.