MyAmericanFuture

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Friday, April 20, 2018

April 20, 2018: NeMLA Recaps: Three Other Inspiring Panels


[This past weekend was the 2018 Northeast MLA convention in Pittsburgh. It was a great time as usual, and this week I’ll highlight some standout moments and conversations. Leading up to a weekend post on how you can get involved in this great organization!]
As the incoming American Literature Area Director, I made sure to get to a ton of the convention’s wonderful American Lit panels. Here are three that I would briefly highlight:
1)      “Excluded: Neglected Authors Pre-1900”: One of this panel’s presenters couldn’t be there, but the two that were offered this AmericanStudier two distinct but equally important forms of literary historical recovery. Mary Balkun focused on an American author I had literally never heard of before this moment: Abigail Levy Franks, an early 18th century Jewish American woman living in New York City whose letters to her son in England open up questions of religion and culture, gender and perspective, family and multi-generational shift, and how we define colonial American community and literature. And Robert Wilson talked about James M. Whitfield, a mid-19th century African American poet and activist whose poetry I knew slightly from teaching him in my 19th Century Af Am Lit course but whose journalistic debates with Frederick Douglass and others over black nationalism and colonization were entirely new to me, and significantly shifted my sense of this figure, his poetry, and his cultural and historical role.
2)      “Material Culture Studies and American Literature”: Each of the four thoughtful and ground-breaking papers on this panel exemplified different sides to the literary study and meanings of material culture. Wesley McMasters put Edgar Allan Poe’s Philadelphia-era writings in conversation with journalistic texts and contexts from the period. Blevin Shelnutt highlighted the rise of both gaslights and gaslight culture in antebellum New York City. Stephanie Scherer used the relationship of paper production to cotton (and thus slavery) and rags (and thus poverty) to open up works such as Melville’s “Tartarus of Maids.” And Brad Congdon focused on the short stories that Langston Hughes published in the first issues of Esquire magazine to think about both the rise of men’s magazines and the culture of the 1930s. So much to keep thinking about in all four talks!
3)      “Minor Print Cultures of the 19th-Century United States”: My friend and longtime NEASA colleague Luke Dietrich organized this panel, with three papers that each highlighted cultural and literary figures and works about which I knew absolutely nothing and into which I’m now excited to delve further. Liana Glew discussed The Meteor, a short-lived but incredibly interesting paper produced in the 1870s by the residents of Alabama’s Bryce Hospital (a mental asylum). Maria Ellenberger discussed mid to late-19th century novels of domestic abuse, including Lillie Devereux Blake’s Fettered for Life: A Story of To-day (1874). And Monika Giacoppe discussed French Canadian political activist and exile Ludger Duvernay and his radical newspaper (produced from Burlington, VT) Le Patriote Canadien. All three of these impressive speakers and talks reminded me of how much I still have to learn about American literature, culture, and history—one of many reasons I’m so excited to be taking over the NeMLA American Literature Director role!
Special post this weekend,
Ben
PS. NeMLA responses or thoughts? Other organizations or conferences you’d highlight?

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