School of Humanities, Language and Global Studies

Professor Will Kaufman

Professor of American Literature & Culture

Will Kaufman is a graduate of Montclair State College (now University) in New Jersey, with a degree in English and History. He was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he earned a PhD in American Literature.

Will Kaufman

His areas of expertise include American comedy, the culture of the American Civil War, transatlantic studies, the American 1970s, and American protest music, with particular emphasis on Woody Guthrie.

Will's first book, The Comedian As Confidence Man (Wayne State UP, 1997) introduced the concept of "irony fatigue" to the discussion of comedic expression, focusing on the conflict between the social critic who demands to be taken seriously and the comedian who never can be. The book engaged with the careers of such notable American comedians - both literary and performing - as Benjamin Franklin, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, Lenny Bruce, Kurt Vonnegut, Garrison Keillor and Bill Hicks.

Will is now recognised as the world’s leading authority on the American songwriter, Woody Guthrie. His fourth book was the AHRC-funded Woody Guthrie, American Radical (University of Illinois Press, 2011), the first political biography of the balladeer. As a recipient of two Woody Guthrie Research Fellowships from the Broadcast Music Industry Foundation, he has recently completed his second book on Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s Modern World Blues (University of Oklahoma Press, 2017), which examines Guthrie’s relation to American modernity. Will is also the editor of the online journal, Woody Guthrie Annual.

It was Will who brought to light Woody Guthrie’s writings against the racist policies of his landlord, Fred C. Trump — the US President’s father — in the 1950s. His two articles for The Conversation were picked up and recirculated by major US and world newspapers and media outlets, marking a major intervention into the 2016 presidential election.

Also a semi-professional folksinger and multi-instrumentalist, Will has toured Europe and the United States with a pair of live musical documentaries - "Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin'" and “Woody Guthrie: The Long Road to Peekskill” - which he has performed at such high-profile showcases as the Glastonbury Festival, the Bath International Music Festival, the Whitby Folk Festival, and the Chester Literature Festival, as well as hundreds of music venues on both sides of the Atlantic. His Guthrie presentations have attracted the public praise of eminent musical figures such as Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Ry Cooder, Ralph McTell, Martin Carthy and Christy Moore. For more information, please see