America in Progress

America in Progress
America in Progress

Saturday, March 30, 2019

March 30-31, 2019: March 2019 Recap


[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
March 4: Remembering the Alamo: The Two Films: For the battle’s anniversary, an Alamo series kicks off with what separates the 1960 and 2004 films and a telling shared detail.
March 5: Remembering the Alamo: A Mexican Memoir: The series continues with a couple takeaways from a controversial but apparently authentic soldier’s memoir.
March 6: Remembering the Alamo: Lone Star: Two exchanges in my favorite film that captures the complexities of collective memory, as the series fights on.
March 7: Remembering the Alamo: Phil Collins?!: A couple ways to AmericanStudy a strange and telling 21st century story.
March 8: Remembering the Alamo: The Historic Site: The series concludes with two significant problems with the mission statement of an important preservationist effort.
March 9-10: Tejano Traditions: Following up the Alamo series with a special weekend post on three products of South Texas Tejano culture (including my childhood favorite restaurant, La Hacienda!).
March 11: Irish Americans: Mathew Brady: A St. Patrick’s Day series kicks off with lesser-known historical contexts for the Civil War’s most famous photographer.
March 12: Irish Americans: Augustus Saint-Gaudens: The series continues with the artist whose Irish American and international legacy is written in stone.
March 13: Irish Americans: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: On the similar yet opposing pulls of artistic and romantic passions, as the series rolls on.
March 14: Irish Americans: Gene Kelly’s Films: Stand-out moments from of the legendary actor and dancer’s biggest hit movies.
March 15: Irish Americans: Macklemore’s “Irish Celebration”: The series concludes with a song that both relies upon yet also transcends ethnic stereotypes.
March 16-17: Irish American Literature: A special weekend post, on five books that can tell us a lot about the Irish American experience.
March 18: YA Series: Rick Riordan: A series on some of my sons’ favorite YA series kicks off with some of the reasons why they prefer Riordan’s books to other YA fantasies.
March 19: YA Series: Wildwood and Ratbridge: The series continues with the limits and appeals of quirky fantasy series.
March 20: YA Series: Artemis Fowl: The fraught perils of rooting for an anti-hero and how Eoin Colfer’s series transcends them through world-building, as the series reads on.
March 21: YA Series: Timmy Failure: The difficult task of appealing to kid and adult audiences alike, and how Stephan Pastis’s books pull it off in (Sam) spades.
March 22: YA Series: The Chronicles of Prydain, Revisited: The series concludes with the nostalgic and new delights of watching my son read one of my childhood favorite series.
March 23-24: Crowd-sourced YA Lit: One of my richest crowd-sourced posts yet, featuring the responses and recommendations of many fellow YALitStudies—add yours here or in comments there, please!
March 25: NeMLA Recaps: Imbolo Mbue: A series recapping the 2019 NeMLA convention in DC kicks off with two takeaways from Mbue’s wonderful opening night creative event.
March 26: NeMLA Recaps: My Toni Morrison Panel: The series continues with the four great talks on the first half of my “African American Literature and the Ironies of Freedom” panel.
March 27: NeMLA Recaps: Homi Bhabha: Tracing Homi Bhabha’s bracing and inspiring keynote through three key phrases, as the series rolls on.
March 28: NeMLA Recaps: My Contemporary Af Am Panel: Highlighting the three great papers on the second half of my African American panel.
March 29: NeMLA Recaps: Other Standout Sessions: The series concludes with three more excellent and thought-provoking panels from across the conference.                                  
April Fool’s series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Friday, March 29, 2019

March 29, 2019: NeMLA 2019 Recaps: Three More Standout Sessions


[This past week we held the 50th Anniversary NeMLA Convention in Washington, DC. It was a great time as ever, and this week I’ll highlight a few of the many standout moments and conversations for me. Lemme know if you’d like to hear or chat more about the NeMLA Board, the American Area, next year’s convention in Boston, or anything else!]
I attended and was part of a number of other great sessions over the course of the conference’s four days. Here are quick recaps of three more (each of which relates to AmericanStudies in many ways):
1)      Form, Resistance, and U.S. Empire: I attended this panel in support of William and Mary graduate student Jennifer Ross, with whom I’m working as part of NeMLA’s new publishing mentorship program. But Jennifer’s wonderful paper on Omar el Akkad’s novel American War (2017) was complemented by the two from her co-panelists, fellow grad students Muhammad Waqar Azeem (who organized the panel) and Muhammad Sadiq, each of whom framed broader theoretical lenses through which to analyze these vital 21st century literary, cultural, and historical topics. I was so struck by the need to include those topics and these conversations more fully in NeMLA’s American Area and NeMLA overall that I’m hoping to invite a Pakistani American Studies scholar (or one from elsewhere, but that was a specific focus for the latter two talks and what Azeem and I began talking about after the panel) for next year’s area special event, and would love any suggestions or ideas!
2)      Citizenship and American Literature: Following up my two African American lit sessions (about which I wrote in Tuesday and Thursday’s posts) was a two-part sequence on this central and related focus, panels created by Timothy Morris and Ariel Martino from Rutgers. I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend the first, but got back for the second, which featured Joe Alicea on 1970s Nuyorican poet Pedro Pietri, Alexandra Lossada on Hope Leslie, Hediye Ozkan on Zitkala-Ša, and John Rendeiro on Hawthorne’s “Wakefield.” First of all, if that ain’t AmericanStudies, I dunno what is! And that’s not just a delighted AmericanStudier’s response—it’s a vital point about how we define both citizenship and America overall. That is, there’s significant value in the simple but crucial act of including texts and stories, authors and voices, cultures and communities in our conversations, not just on their own terms but as part of the broad tapestry. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a conference panel that did so more potently than this quartet of great talks!
3)      Landscape and Immigration: On the convention’s final morning I was part of an informal roundtable on NeMLA itself and then a formal panel on these topics, one organized by my friend and predecessor as American Area Director John Casey, Jr. John and our co-presenter Ariel Silver both spoke about Willa Cather and her novelistic representations of these historical and geographic themes, and I learned a lot from their readings of Cather and her contexts. But while I was already familiar with those works, I hadn’t heard at all of the focus of our fourth paper: recently minted PhD Laura Whitebell’s presentation on Elizabeth Gaskell’s historical fiction Lois the Witch (1861). British novelist Gaskell’s depiction of an English immigrant to late 17th century Salem who ends up accused of witchcraft during the 1692 trials sounds like a really interesting complement and challenge to Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables (published just a decade earlier), and also like a text that I simply need to get my hands on ASAP. Which, as I’ve said all week, is one of the most inspiring parts of a convention that is always one of the highlights of my year!
March Recap this weekend,
Ben
PS. NeMLA reflections to share?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

March 28, 2019: NeMLA 2019 Recaps: My Second Af Am Panel


[This past week we held the 50th Anniversary NeMLA Convention in Washington, DC. It was a great time as ever, and this week I’ll highlight a few of the many standout moments and conversations for me. Lemme know if you’d like to hear or chat more about the NeMLA Board, the American Area, next year’s convention in Boston, or anything else!]
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, I got so many great abstracts for my “African American Literature and the Ironies of Freedom” call that I was able to create two panels. Complementing the Morrison panel was this trio of wonderful papers that looked at other African American lit and voices from across literary history:
1)      Emma McNamara: Emma, a Washington, DC high school English teacher and independent scholar, started us off with a linguistic and structuralist analysis of Walter Dean Myers’s ground-breaking YA novel Monster (1999). Emma’s paper highlighted four different languages/codes in the course of Myers’s novel, and used them to analyze issues of race and culture, mass incarceration and the justice system, and other vital American and 21st century themes and threads. But she also made a potent case for two crucial literary threads alongside those historical and cultural ones: the role of narrative in creating and contesting images of such themes; and the role of audience (and thus reader response theory) in engaging and interpreting those texts. All questions that helped shape the rest of this great panel as well!
2)      Pearl Nielsen: Pearl carried those conversations forward a couple decades, looking at two complex and crucial works of contemporary African American literature: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s autobiographical and political Between the World and Me (2015) and Teju Cole’s novel Open City (2011). Her multi-layered analyses of these texts nicely laid out the complicated relationship between collective and individual identity, a frame that of course relates closely to members of a racial and ethnic community like African American (already complicated here since Cole is the son of Nigerian immigrant parents while Coates’s American roots go back many generations) but that has implications and meanings for all American audiences. But she also and crucially introduced 21st century global connections and contexts into the mix, particularly through the topic of cosmopolitan patriotism, a middle ground between both individual/collective and American/global dualities. Pearl’s paper gave me a lot to think about with both these vital works/authors and every aspect of our current moment.
3)      Rod Taylor: Rod took us back a century, looking at the late 19th century through the lens of anti-plantation literature (a term of his own from his dissertation studying this era). This is of course an era and broad set of literary and cultural histories I know well, and indeed Rod was kind enough to name-check my first book as part of his great analysis of the genre and period. But Rod’s paper focused on an in-depth analysis (including wonderful work with rare archival materials) of an author and figure about whom I knew very little: Daniel Webster Davis. Rod analyzed both Davis’s published poems and his unpublished lecture notes (held in a Richmond, VA collection) at length, making the case for both the challenges/limits of Davis’s perspective and voice and yet his potent revisions of plantation tradition and Lost Cause mythologies. But he also simply and crucially reminded me that there’s always so much more to learn, which remains one of the most powerful and inspiring lessons I take away from each and every NeMLA convention!
Last recap tomorrow,
Ben
PS. NeMLA reflections to share?