Program in the History of the Book  in American Culture


Radium of the Word:
A Poetics of Materiality

with Craig Dwarkin

Presented on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 2 pm EST

Approx. 45 minutes

This program is free but requires advanced registration.

The American Antiquarian Society hosted a virtual book talk with Craig Dworkin, author of Radium of the Word: A Poetics of Materiality.

With fresh insight and contemporary relevance, Radium of the Word argues that a study of the form of language yields meanings otherwise inaccessible through ordinary reading strategies. Attending to the forms of words rather than to their denotations, Craig Dworkin traces hidden networks across the surface of texts, examining how typography, and even individual letters and marks of punctuation, can reveal patterns that are significant without being symbolic—fully meaningful without communicating any preordained message.

Radium of the Word takes its title from Mina Loy’s poem for Gertrude Stein, which hails her as the Madame “Curie / of the laboratory / of vocabulary.” In this spirit, Dworkin considers prose as a dynamic literary form, characterized by experimentation. Dworkin draws on examples from writers as diverse as Lyn Hejinian, William Faulkner, and Joseph Roth. He takes up the status of the proper name in Modernism, with examples from Stein, Loy, and Guillaume Apollinaire, and he offers in-depth analyses of individual authors from the counter-canon of the avant-garde, including P. Inman, Russell Atkins, N. H. Pritchard, and Andy Warhol. The result is an inspiring intervention in contemporary poetics.

Craig Dworkin is the author, most recently, of Radium of the Word: A Poetics of Materiality (University of Chicago Press, 2020) and Dictionary Poetics: Toward a Radical Lexicography (Fordham University Press, 2020). He teaches literary history and theory at the University of Utah and serves as founding editor of Eclipse, an on-line archive of innovative writing (

Order this book directly from the publisher at

Craig Dworkin

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