Hillary Chute ’94
June 16, 2023

Literary scholar teaches culture with comics

Hillary Chute '94 published Maus Now: Selected Writing, which acts as a guide to the Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus
by Nancy Hitchcock

It all started with a comic strip—shared by Andover English instructor Bruce Smith. The comic by Lynda Barry intrigued Hillary Chute ’94, who ended up taping it to her dorm room door. Little did she know at the time, that act would lead to a 20-plus-year career studying, writing, and teaching about comics and graphic narratives.

“Bruce Smith blew my mind by teaching a comic strip as a work of literature,” says Chute. “It really inspired me, and I thanked him in the acknowledgments in my book Graphic Women.”

After earning an English degree at Oberlin College and a PhD at Rutgers, Chute decided to focus on comics as a literary form. She currently teaches visual culture at Northeastern University, including courses titled “Feminism and Visual Culture” and “Graphic Medicine.”

Chute just published her seventh book, Maus Now: Selected Writing. Her fascination with Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale began more than 20 years ago when a professor in a contemporary literature course taught the two-volume masterpiece, which tells a personal story of the Holocaust in comics form. The book depicts humans with heads of mice, representing Jews, and heads of cats to represent Nazis. “What struck me as a first-time reader of Maus was how this form—comics—works so well for this kind of story—a story about genocide and family trauma. It opened up a world that I hadn’t known existed,” says Chute, “and that I found really powerful.”

Her new book, which acts as a guide to the Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus, features 70 images from the original book and 21 essays—several translated from French, Hebrew, and German—that examine its content.

Given the increased incidents of antisemitism, Chute believes Maus still has a political and cultural value today. “This is a story that’s so powerful and so hard to contain that it gets banned,” she says, noting that Maus was, in fact, recently banned by a Tennessee school board. “It’s a book that elicits very strong reactions, and I think that’s part of its force and part of why it’s so fascinating and timeless.”

At a book talk in New York, Hillary Chute speaks with Art Spiegelman, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, about her new book Maus Now: Selected Writing.

Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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