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About Leila Watkins

Research Interests
I study early modern British literature with a focus on poetry and poetics. I am particularly interested in how readers and writers perceived verse as a discursive form that could help them understand and manage emotional experience. I am also interested in how early modern religious literature facilitates community formation.
Grief and Relief: Verse Consolation in Early Modern England
My current book project explores the role of verse in early modern English strategies for understanding and managing troubling emotions. Specifically, it argues that early modern readers and writers found verse to be an especially effective method of “consolation”—a common early modern term for the process of seeking to alleviate emotional distress in oneself or others. Not only did writers like George Puttenham and John Milton speak about the power of verse form to “purge” individuals of excess passion, but early modern printers actually produced collections of poetry explicitly framed as cures for mental and emotional maladies. By advertising themselves as “Good for Melancholy Humors” and figuring poems as “pills,” such books implied that verse had legitimate power to cure emotional ailments. Grief and Relief traces this phenomenon from the early through the mid-seventeenth century in English literary culture, challenging an interpretation of early modern lyric in which poems are viewed primarily as means by which authors express a unique sense of self, or subjectivity. Rather, I argue that early modern readers and writers saw poems as crucial resources that diverse individuals, and even entire communities, could use to manage troubling emotions such as grief, anger, and frustration. In particular, I suggest that early modern poetry offered readers a communal version of consolation in which the social responsibility for emotional wellbeing lay, not simply with the distressed individual or a single caregiver, but in the hands of the larger community.
Teaching Interests
While I am trained in literary studies, I teach interdisciplinary courses in the Honors College at Western Kentucky University. At the introductory level, I teach a course titled “Citizen and Self” that introduces Honors students to theories of citizenship, academic research methods, and the practice of democratic political discourse. Collaboratively designed and taught by an interdisciplinary team of faculty, this course invites students to connect their college education to their civic identities. I also teach upper-level interdisciplinary seminars on special topics related to my research, such as “From Poetry to Prozac: The Literature and History of Mental Health.” I occasionally teach courses in the English department and upper-level research methods classes, such as a course that guides students through the process of developing an Honors thesis.


Present Assistant Professor, Western Kentucky University Honors College

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Honors and Awards

  • Mary Jo Small Fellowship, Society for Values in Higher Education, 2016
  • Research and Creative Activities Program Grant, WKU, 2016
  • Quick Turn-Around Grant, WKU, 2016, 2017
  • Institutional Nominee, NEH Summer Stipend, WKU, 2015
  • Academy for Advanced Study in the Renaissance, A. W. Mellon Foundation, 2014
  • Medieval and Early Modern Studies Summer Research Grant, University of Michigan, 2013
  • Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, University of Michigan, 2013
  • John H. D’Arms Spring/Summer Fellow, University of Michigan, 2013
  • Rackham Humanities Research Dissertation Fellowship, University of Michigan, 2013- 2014
  • Rackham Humanities Research Candidacy Fellowship, University of Michigan, 2012-2013
  • Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, Undergraduate English Association, University of Michigan, 2011
  • James L. Whitfield Prize for Best Undergraduate Honors English Thesis, University of North Carolina, 2008


  • Honors 251: “Citizen and Self in Washington, D.C.”
  • Honors 251: “Citizen and Self”
  • English 200 (Honors sections): “Introduction to Literature”
  • Honors 300: “From Poetry to Prozac: The Literature and History of Mental Health”


2014 Ph. D., The University Of Michigan ‐ English
2010 Master of Arts, The University Of Michigan ‐ English
2008 Bachelor of Arts, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ‐ English

Contact Information

Western Kentucky University
The Honors College
1906 College Heights Blvd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101