Martin Riker

Teaching Professor in English
Director of the Publishing Concentration
PhD, University of Denver
research interests:
  • International and experimental fiction
  • The philosophy of style
  • Non-canonical literary traditions
  • Literature in translation
  • Literary criticism
  • Publishing theory and practice
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Riker teaches a wide range of courses that draw upon and often combine his varied background as a novelist, book critic, and literary publisher. He loves literature of all types and from all eras but has particular fondness for traditions outside the American mainstream, including experimental works and literature in translation.

    Riker is author of two novels: The Guest Lecture (2023) and Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return (2018). As a literary critic, he has written on contemporary fiction and literature in translation for such publication as New York Times Book ReviewWall Street JournalLondon Review of BooksTLSParis Review Daily, and The Guardian. Prior to coming to Washington University, he served for almost a decade as Associate Director of the nonprofit publishing house Dalkey Archive Press, and as an editor for the periodicals The Review of Contemporary Fiction and CONTEXT: A Forum for Literary Arts and Culture. In 2010, he and his wife, Danielle Dutton, co-founded the feminist publishing house Dorothy, which offers internships to students at Washington University. In addition to teaching classes, Riker directs the Publishing Concentration to the English Major. 

    Courses Taught

    • Publishing History & Contexts
    • The Art of Publishing
    • The Literary Life (freshman seminar)
    • Experimental Traditions
    • Critic as Writer
    • The Writer in the World (on the Philosophy of Style)
    • Fiction 1 & 2
    The Guest Lecture

    The Guest Lecture

    In a hotel room in the middle of the night, Abby, a young feminist economist, lies awake next to her sleeping husband and daughter. Anxious that she is grossly underprepared for a talk she is presenting tomorrow on optimism and John Maynard Keynes, she has resolved to practice by using an ancient rhetorical method of assigning parts of her speech to different rooms in her house and has brought along a comforting albeit imaginary companion to keep her on track—Keynes himself.

    Yet as she wanders with increasing alarm through the rooms of her own consciousness, Abby finds herself straying from her prepared remarks on economic history, utopia, and Keynes’s pragmatic optimism. A lapsed optimist herself, she has been struggling under the burden of supporting a family in an increasingly hostile America after being denied tenure at the university where she teaches. Confronting her own future at a time of global darkness, Abby undertakes a quest through her memories to ideas hidden in the corners of her mind—a piecemeal intellectual history from Cicero to Lewis Carroll to Queen Latifah—as she asks what a better world would look like if we told our stories with more honest and more hopeful imaginations.

    With warm intellect, playful curiosity, and an infectious voice, Martin Riker acutely animates the novel of ideas with a beating heart and turns one woman’s midnight crisis into the performance of a lifetime.

    Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return

    Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return

    When Samuel Johnson dies, he finds himself in the body of the man who killed him, unable to depart this world but determined, at least, to return to the son he left behind. Moving from body to body as each one expires, Samuel’s soul journeys on a comic quest through an American half-century, inhabiting lives as stymied, in their ways, as his own. A ghost story of the most unexpected sort, Martin Riker’s extraordinary debut is about the ways experience is mediated, the unstoppable drive for human connection, and the struggle to be more fully alive in the world.

    Martin Riker grew up in central Pennsylvania. He worked as a musician for most of his twenties, in nonprofit literary publishing for most of his thirties, and has spent the first half of his forties teaching in the English department at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2010, he and his wife Danielle Dutton co-founded the feminist press Dorothy, a Publishing Project. His fiction and criticism have appeared in publications including the Wall Street Journal, the New York TimesLondon Review of Books, the Baffler, and Conjunctions. This is his first novel.