Book Launch

Book Launch | The Drama of Celebrity

09/23 Monday | 6pm

NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to the launch event of The Drama of Celebrity (Princeton, 2019) by Sharon Marcus, featuring the author in conversation with Katie Lofton, Anne Cheng, and Joshua Gamson.

Why do so many people care so much about celebrities? Who decides who gets to be a star? What are the privileges and pleasures of fandom? Do celebrities ever deserve the outsized attention they receive?

In this fascinating and deeply researched book, Sharon Marcus challenges everything you thought you knew about our obsession with fame. Icons are not merely famous for being famous; the media alone cannot make or break stars; fans are not simply passive dupes. Instead, journalists, the public, and celebrities themselves all compete, passionately and expertly, to shape the stories we tell about celebrities and fans. The result: a high-stakes drama as endless as it is unpredictable.

Drawing on scrapbooks, personal diaries, and vintage fan mail, Marcus traces celebrity culture back to its nineteenth-century roots, when people the world over found themselves captivated by celebrity chefs, bad-boy poets, and actors such as the “divine” Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), as famous in her day as the Beatles in theirs. Known in her youth for sleeping in a coffin, hailed in maturity as a woman of genius, Bernhardt became a global superstar thanks to savvy engagement with her era’s most innovative media and technologies: the popular press, commercial photography, and speedy new forms of travel.

Whether you love celebrity culture or hate it, The Drama of Celebrity will change how you think about one of the most important phenomena of modern times.


Sharon Marcus is the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is a founding editor of Public Books and the author of the award-winning Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (Princeton, 2007) and Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London (UC Press, 1999).

Anne Anlin Cheng is Professor of English, Director of American Studies, and affiliated faculty in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Committee on Film Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of several books, including The Melancholy of Race: Assimilation, Psychoanalysis, and Hidden Grief (Oxford University Press, 2001) Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Ornamentalism (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Joshua Gamson is Academic Assistant Dean and Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. His books include Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America (California, 1994); Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity (Chicago, 1998), and the award-winning The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, The Music, The Seventies in San Francisco (Henry Holt/Picador, 2005).

Kathryn Lofton is Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History, and Divinity at Yale University. Her books include Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (UC Press, 2011) and Consuming Religion (Chicago, 2017). Professor Lofton has served as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame; she has co-curated (with John Lardas Modern) a collaborative web project titled Frequencies as well as Class 200: New Studies in Religion a book series with the University of Chicago Press.

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