Jay was named William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English in 2003. Since 2012, he has been the director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, where he has expanded the center’s missions to engage in public policy research on the arts and to foster creativity across the disciplines. He is the author or editor of seven books and more than 35 articles and chapters, and he has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and elsewhere. His published scholarship has ranged from Romantic poetry and the Victorian novel to contemporary American literature, ﬁlm and digital media, science and literature, and medicine, health, and society. His book, Charles Dickens in Cyberspace: The Afterlife of the Nineteenth Century in Postmodern Culture, focused on the depiction of computers, information technology, and cyborgs from the Victorian era to the twenty-ﬁrst century. This study won the Suzanne M. Glasscock Humanities Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship.
Jay’s recent work has concentrated on the ethical, social, and cultural issues raised by genomics. To support this research, he received a multi-year grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute, the first award ever given by the NIH to a literature professor. This project brought together an interdisciplinary team from eight universities to study how literature and film shape the public’s understanding of genomics and to develop methods for introducing bioethics into literary research and teaching. He has spread the word about the importance of bringing the humanities into the conversation about medicine and science policy in addresses at the NIH, the Institute of Medicine, medical schools in the U.S., England, Ireland, and elsewhere in Europe, and in numerous publications.
Jay received his B.A. from Yale University and his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He began his teaching career at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he was the first director of the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and received the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award. At Vanderbilt, he served as chair of the English department from 2002–2010.