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Languages, Cultures and Visual Studies

Photo of Professor Helen Vassallo

Professor Helen Vassallo

Associate Professor of French and Translation


01392 724217


Professor Helen Vassallo graduated from the University of Liverpool in 1999, with a first-class Joint Honours degree in French and Hispanic Studies. She completed an MA in Literary Translation and a PhD in French, before joining the Department of Modern Languages at Exeter in 2004. She teaches a range of modules at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and supervises PhD research in each of her areas of expertise (women's writing, translation, and contemporary French/Francophone literature).

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Current and Future Research Projects

My two primary areas of research are literature in translation, and contemporary women's writing in French. My Translating Women research project, launched in 2018, brings together my interests in translated literature and women's writing. The aim of Translating Women is to engage with publishers, translators, booksellers, the media and readers in order to address intersectional gender bias within the publishing industry. This research led to my most recent book, Towards a Feminist Translator Studies: Intersectional Activism in Translation and Publishing (Routledge, October 2022), in which I develop a new critical model that works towards shifting paradigms in the translated literature sector of the publishing industry and presents a positive opportunity to address gender and interconnecting forms of bias. This research was also informed by my work with English PEN on the AHRC-funded network Changing the Landscape: Diversity and Translated Fiction in the UK Publishing Industry. The network brought together publishers, translators and academics to analyse and challenge connected forms of bias in the production and reception of translated fiction.

My recent translation work includes two plays by Darina Al Joundi, The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing and Marseillaise My Way (both released by Naked Eye Publishing, 2022), a collection of short stories and essays by Leïla Slimani, The Devil is in the Detail and other writings (Liverpool University Press, 2023) and Al Joundi's novel Prisoner of the Levant (Liverpool University Press, 2024). I am currently working on several other translation projects, including my role as project co-lead on translations of Ukrainian war poetry.

Other research interests

My early research resulted in two books on French author Jeanne Hyvrard, and highlighted my interest in the literary and autobiographical manifestations of social and physical conflict and trauma. Moving on from this, I began to focus on narratives of war, or of the transmitted legacy of war.

I have published several articles which focus specifically on literature in French which deals with the legacy of the Algerian War of Independence, as well as completing a British Academy-funded monograph titled The Body Besieged: The Embodiment of Historical Memory in Nina Bouraoui and Leïla Sebbar and an article on a previously unpublished text by the actor and playwright Rachid Akbal, written and performed to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Algerian independence from France.

My dual interest in gender and narratives of war also links in to my work on Lebanese playwright and actress Darina Al-Joundi, on whose critically acclaimed play Le Jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanter I have published a number of articles.

Research collaborations

I am currently working on a range of collaborations that have been seed-funded by AHRC, GCRF and HEIF grants. The first collaboration is the development of a digital publishing initiative with English PEN (a worldwide writers’ association that facilitates and promotes the translation into English of published work in foreign languages): with both HEIF scoping funding and AHRC network funding we brought together a network of translators, activists and academics for a series of interactions to address challenges to diversity in the UK publishing industry; these interactions shaped the vital new translator-led initiative PEN Presents, a digital platform for carefully curated samples of works by marginalised writers in translation. Read more about PEN Presents and its impact in this interview with Will Forrester, Translation and International Manager at English PEN.

I am also working with award-winning independent publisher Charco Press on a collection of essays written by contemporary feminist Latin American writers and activists. The project has both a social and literary purpose: we hope that it will not only raise awareness of cultural gender bias in all areas, but also show how such bias makes it harder for women to get published, and then harder still to get translated into English. 

I am co-lead on the Translating Ukrainian War Poetry project, run by my colleague Professor Hugh Roberts. We are working with project partners in Ukraine, poet Yuliya Musakovska and poet and broadcaster Olena Huseinova. Our main activities to date are summarised in this university news story, and you can read about our creative writing workshops with the Devon Ukrainian Association, which were made possible thanks to a Bridging Communities award, or watch recordings of some of our work on this YouTube playlist.

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I welcome expressions of interest in research degrees in any of my areas of expertise: literary translation, translation and publishing, contemporary women's writing, and contemporary francophone writing. 

I have supervised PhD theses in several areas related to my research, as follows:

Alison Marmont, ‘The Politics of Intersectional Othering in France: (Dis)Embodiment in the novels of Linda Lê and Marie NDiaye’. SWW DTP co-supervision with Dr Aude Campmas and Dr Scott Soo, University of Southampton (awarded December 2021).

Clare Horackova, 'The Francophone Literature of Central and Eastern Europe in the (Post-)Communist Era' (awarded December 2014).

Martin Baxter, ‘Questioning the Reformability of Western Civilization's Rape Culture' (awarded December 2013).

Jonathan Lewis, ‘Conflict and Remembrance in Contemporary Franco-Algerian Literature' (awarded May 2012).

Research students

I am currently lead supervisor for Reham Alharbi's PhD thesis, "Asymmetries of power in translation: an agent-based study of Denys Johnson-Davies as “gatekeeper” of Alifa Rifaat’s Homecoming and Distant View of a Minaret".

I am part of the supervisory team (with Dr Kate Wallis and Dr Chris Campbell, English and Creative Writing) for Clément Laurelli's PhD thesis, ‘Littératures en étendues: Poetics of Relation in Anglophone and Francophone women’s writing from the Caribbean and Africa, 1970-1990’. 

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 |


  • Joundi DA. (2024) Prisoner of the Levant by Darina Al Joundi, Liverpool University Press.


  • . (2023) The Devil Is in the Detail and Other Writings By Leïla Slimani, World Writing in French: New Archipelagoes.



  • Vassallo H, Castro O. (2020) The Year of Publishing Women (2018): a platform for collective change?, The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Translation, Routledge, 127-146.
  • Castro O, Vassallo H. (2020) Translating Women: Activism in Action.


  • Vassallo H, Castro O. (2019) Translating Women: breaking borders and building bridges in the English-language book industry, Imlr, London, 31st Oct - 1st Nov 2019.



  • Boudraa N, Arnold M, Baage S, Blaney S, Boudraa N, Chandna M, Fraiture P-P, Frith N, Grayson H, Hiddleston J. (2015) Reviews, International Journal of Francophone Studies, volume 18, no. 4, pages 509-547, DOI:10.1386/ijfs.18.4.509_5.







  • Vassallo H. (2009) Unsuccessful alterity? The pursuit of otherness in Nina Bouraoui's autobiographical writing, International Journal of Francophone Studies, volume 12, no. 1, pages 37-53, DOI:10.1386/ijfs.12.1.37_1.
  • Vassallo HM. (2009) ‘"Cette nuit, aura-t-elle une aube?" the fate of the (anti)-heroine in Simone de Beauvoir's Le Sang des Autres and Régine Deforges' La Bicyclette Bleue', French and francophone women facing war/ Les femmes face à la guerre, Peter Lang, 173-191.
  • Vassallo HM. (2009) Alienation and Alterity: Otherness in Modern and Contemporary Francophone Contexts, Alienation and Alterity: Otherness in Modern and Contemporary Francophone Contexts, Exeter, 5th - 7th Sep 2007, Alienation and Alterity: Otherness in Modern and Contemporary Francophone Contexts.
  • Vassallo HM. (2009) Alienation and Alterity: Otherness in Modern and Contemporary Francophone Contexts.
  • Vassallo HM. (2009) Unsuccessful Alterity? The pursuit of Otherness in Nina Bouraoui's life writing, International Journal of Francophone Studies, volume 12, no. 2, pages 37-53, DOI:10.1386/ijfs.12.1.37/1.




  • Wardle, C., Vassallo H. (2006) Dialogues avec Jeanne Hyvrard, Rodopi.


  • Vassallo HM. (2005) ‘Retour à Cythère: Baudelairean intertext in Jeanne Hyvrard', French Studies Bulletin, volume 93 (January 2005), pages 8-10.
  • Vassallo, H.. (2005) What’s in a title? Multiplicity of meaning in Jeanne Hyvrard’s Le Fichu Écarlate, French Studies Bulletin, volume 94, pages 6-9.
  • Vassallo, H.. (2005) Metaphors of dis(-)ease: malady and malaise in Jeanne Hyvrard’s Les Prunes de Cythère and Le Cercan, Women and War: Proceedings of the 8th bi-ennial Women in French conference, P. Lang.
  • Vassallo, H.. (2005) Passion et pulsions: La volupté baudelairienne chez Jeanne Hyvrard, Amour, passion, volupté, tragédie: Le sentiment amoureux dans la littérature française du Moyen Age jusqu’au XXIème siècle, Atlantica.

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External impact and engagement

I run the Translating Women project, which has led to many collaborations with external partners, including events at International Translation Day (2022) and the Cheltenham Literature Festival (2021), and development of the new digital publishing initiative PEN Presents, in collaboration with English PEN.

I have also worked on promotional events with publishers and authors, written freelance pieces for literary journals, and been interviewed for several publications and events. Selected links to online interviews, events and articles are below:

“Twenty Questions with Jesse Episode 8: Helen Vassallo”. Invited guest on women’s literary podcast. June 2022.

Vassallo, Helen, ‘Love in the Time of Capitalism: Rage and Resentment in Ivana Sajko’s Love Novel, translated from Croatian by Mima Simić’. Guest review for Reading in Translation. May 2022.

Vassallo, Helen, “Women in Translation: how to read the world differently”. Guest piece for “big five” publishing house PanMacmillan, to mark International Women’s Day.

Host of event for Charco Press on Instagram Live, interviewing Colombian author Margarita García Robayo in celebration of Women in Translation Month. August 2021.

Van Buren, Caitlin, ‘Translating Women: interview with Helen Vassallo’. Gŵyl: an online festival of literature in translation’, June 2021.

Host of virtual book launch for the Indonesian short story collection The Book of Jakarta, interviewing two of the authors and one translator for a live Zoom event organised by Comma Press, February 2021.

Host of virtual book launch for Margarita García Robayo’s Holiday Heart, interviewing the author and her translator Charlotte Coombe for this sell-out event organised by Charco Press, July 2020.

Van Buren, Caitlin, ‘Interview with Helen Vassallo’. Gŵyl: an online festival of literature in translation’, June 2020.

Brown, Katie and Helen Vassallo, ‘Hearing New Voices: an Interview with Charco Press’. The Literary Platform, April 2020.

Manolachi, Monica, ‘The Necessity of Translating Women: interviewing Helen Vassallo and Olga Castro’. Asymptote Journal of World Literature, February 2020.

Meadowcroft, Victor, ‘Interview with Dr Helen Vassallo: founder of Translating Women’. Onomatomania, 10 January 2020. [].

Vassallo, Helen, ‘In conversation with Négar Djavadi and Tina Kover’, Translating Women conference, Institute for Modern Languages Research, 31 October 2019. []

‘Plume Interviews: Helen Vassallo’, Project Plume, August 2019 [].

‘Interview with Helen Vassallo’, BookSHElf, Women in Translation podcast for Wales Art Review, 23 November 2018 [].

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I teach a number of research-led modules at undergraduate and postgraduate level. My second-year module Translating Exile: Contemporary Francophone Women Writers ties in with my focus on translation as research, looking at how two extraordinary texts about sexual identity and experiences of war are translated and how they travel. My final-year module Women in Translation: Gender and Publishing in the 21st Century stems from my Translating Women project and research into activism in the UK publishing industry, looking at women's writing in translation and considering the barriers faced by women in translation and how independent publishers break through these.

I am currently developing a team-taught first-year module on short stories in French, which will include a collection I have recently translated by leading Francophone author Leïla Slimani. 

At postgraduate level I teach on the MA Publishing, leading the module Translation and Publishing: New Approaches to Literary Activism, which offers insight into how translated literature is commissioned and published in the UK. 

Modules taught

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