The following message was sent to the campus community on Jan. 10, 2024 – Ed.
I write to share the news that Christy Burns, Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Emerita, passed away on November 25, 2023, in Kerrville, Texas. Born on April 28, 1962, in Pasadena, Texas, Christy was the youngest daughter of Bill and Jean Burns. Christy grew up in Laredo, Texas and went on to attend Cornell University, graduating in 1984 with a B.A. in English. Christy spent a year in Boston as a Visiting Scholar at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University before joining the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University to study Comparative Literature. Working under the tutelage of noted professors Richard Macksey, Werner Hamacher, and Hugh Kenner, Christy earned her Ph.D. in 1992 and joined the faculty of William & Mary the same year. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 1998 and retired in 2020 after 28 years of dedicated service to William & Mary.
A scholar of modernism, postmodernism, and critical theory, Professor Burns was an inspiring and versatile faculty member who introduced hundreds of students to the brilliant obscurity of James Joyce’s prose, encouraged students to think creatively and across genres in courses on visual cultures, gender and literature, and helped them understand and enjoy a wide range of contemporary literary and cultural texts. She served as a mentor of undergraduate research, and advised numerous Master’s and Honors theses, and independent studies. Students benefited not only from her encyclopedic knowledge, but also from her patience, creativity, and dedication.
Her special focus as a scholar was James Joyce and Professor Burns was proud to belong to the international community of James Joyce scholars, spending the fall semester of 1993 at the James Joyce Foundation in Zürich. Gestural Politics: Stereotypes and Parody in Joyce (2000), her scholarly monograph, drew on post-structuralist and anthropological theory to explore how James Joyce’s fiction laughs off, and with, gender, sexuality, and nationalism and continues to be widely cited to this day. Her sequel, a study of “new millennial fiction,” was ongoing. In addition to Joyce, Professor Burns published numerous articles on Virginia Woolf, Thomas Pynchon, Irish film and literature, and film theory and presented her research at dozens of academic conferences and universities, both in the U.S. and abroad.
During her tenure at William & Mary, Professor Burns was a paragon of interdisciplinarity and a stalwart contributor to the program in Women’s Studies (now Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies), serving as director from 2008 to 2011. She also served as the director of the Honors Program in English from 2003-2005 and was a vital contributor to the Film and Media Studies Program. Energetic and dynamic, her ideas and hard work paid dividends for her students and colleagues alike.
Her service to William & Mary included serving on almost every standing committee in English and in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. For Arts & Sciences, Professor Burns served on the Committee on Degrees from 2003-2007, and she was also a member of several university-wide committees, notably the Career Development Committee and the Faculty University Priorities Committee.
Besides Joyce, the hallmark of her academic career, Professor Burns frequently taught and researched 20th– and 21st-century literatures—the more intricate, the better, including Virginia Woolf, Eavan Boland, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, and Michael Ondaatje. Cross-pollinating many strains of erudition, she was well versed in ecology and philosophy, literary and cultural theory, psychoanalytic theory, comic theory, Irish studies, and film studies. Professor Burns was particularly drawn to various practitioners of what she dared to call “long slow” media, including the filmmaker’s filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. She was even known to hazard teaching a book considered by even the most adept literary scholars notoriously unteachable: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
Professor Burns had a lifelong love of animals, especially cats and birds, and was fond of regaling friends with the doings of a particularly cherished cat, Finn. She will be remembered for lively encounters in Italy and Switzerland, her generosity and the warmth of her winsome, whimsical personality, her lively and active mind, for having been deeply committed to her students, especially the many she mentored through honors thesis research, and as deeply committed to feminist praxis. She will be missed.
William & Mary