Marie-Laure Ryan Awarded 2017 Wayne C. Booth Lifetime Achievement Award

December 2, 2016

The Executive Committee of the International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN) is delighted to announce winner of the 2017 Wayne C. Booth Lifetime Achievement Award.  The 2017 winner is the distinguished narrative theorist and independent scholar, Marie-Laure Ryan.  She will receive her award during the Awards Luncheon at the 2017 annual ISSN conference at the University of Kentucky, 25 March 2017, and will be honored with a special panel devoted to her work and career.

The Wayne C. Booth Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes outstanding scholar-teachers who have made sustained contributions to narrative studies over the course of their careers.  Recent winners have included Lubomír Doležel (2016), Tzetan Todorov (2015), and Hayden White (2014).

Beginning with a book (Rituel et poésie: Une lecture de Saint-John Perse, 1977) and seven articles in journals including Semiotica and Diacritics before 1980, the publishing record of Marie-Laure Ryan extends over thirty-five years. She is the author of five monographs and more than 100 articles, the guest editor of special issues of Style and Poetics, and editor or co-editor of five volumes, including the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (with David Herman and Manfred Jahn).  Born in Switzerland in 1946, and educated at the Universities of Geneva and Utah, she has worked as a software engineer and independent scholar for most of her career.

In Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory, which won the 1991 MLA prize for independent scholars, she expands possible worlds theory to include, in each fictional world, the alternate possible worlds that characters create in their minds: the fictional world as they perceive it, as they predict or hope or fear it will be. The most influential contribution of this book is her principle of minimal departure, which stipulates that readers will imagine fictional worlds as being as close as possible to the actual world, apart from deviations from the actual that are expressly mandated by the text itself.

Ryan’s Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media, the winner of the 2001 MLA prize for comparative literary studies, complements her earlier work on possible worlds, first by analyzing our experiencing of fictional worlds as a continuum from immersion to interactivity, and second, by considering the effect of medium on our experiencing of fictional worlds. She revisits these topics in Narrative as Virtual Reality II (2015), updating her thinking by responding to developments in both interactive media and narrative theory since 2001. In Avatars of Story (2006) she returns to digital media, this time analyzing forms of storytelling developed for the new media. Her most recent book is Narrating Space, Spatializing Narrative (2016), co-authored with Kenneth Foote and Maoz Azaryahu.

In addition to her work on print and digital narratives, Ryan has published four edited collections that explore narratives represented in a variety of media: Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling (2004); Intermediality and Storytelling (coedited with Marina Grishakova, 2010); Storyworlds Across Media (co-edited with Jan-Noël Thon, 2014); and The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media (co-edited with Lori Emerson and Benjamin J. Robertson, 2014).  Ryan is currently working (with Alice Bell) on a new collection called Possible Worlds Theory and Contemporary Narratology.


Brian McHale

The Ohio State University

President, ISSN