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Thursday, May 7, 2015

May 7, 2015: NeMLA 2015 Recaps: Three More Great Panels

[This past weekend, the Northeast MLA held its annual spring conference in Toronto. I was there in my official capacity as the organization’s Vice President, as well as a presenter and audience member, and wanted to follow up on a handful of the many interesting things that took place. Leading up to a weekend post on how you can help me plan next year’s conference in Hartford!]
A few quick takeaways from three more of the many great panels I had a chance to attend at NeMLA.
1)      Poetry and Citizenship: Put together by Kirsten Ortega, this panel featured Prentiss Clark, Joseph Gamble, Daniel Velella, and James Reitter delivering papers exploring the possibilities and limitations of poetry’s ability to perform social and political work in its world. I learned a great deal from all four talks, about topics as diverse as Walt Whitman (Prentiss’s talk) and 21st century Wisconsin protest poetry (James’s), but was particularly struck by Daniel’s work with Harryette Mullen—I had heard of Mullen’s work but never read her; given that one of the Mullen poems Daniel shared (“Bitter Labor”) utilizes and revises the text of the Chinese Exclusion Act (!), I’ll certainly be remedying that omission ASAP.
2)      Regionalism and “Others”: Put together by NeMLA Associate Executive Director (and newly minted PhD) Brandi So, this panel featured Scott Zukowski, Florian Freitag, Christine Payson, and Alexznder Hollenberg presenting papers on American literary regionalism’s engagements with issues of race, ethnicity, and other forms of identity and community. I’m not sure I’ve ever attended a panel that dovetailed more fully with my work and interests, and at the same time that added to my sense of each focal period and its texts and authors. For example, Florian’s re-situation of New Orleans local color writing in the context of its Scribner’s magazine publication (including illustrations and engravings, as well as texts engaging each other across subsequent issues) has given me much to think about when it comes to George Washington Cable, Grace King, and their peers.
3)      The Future of TV: Put together by NeMLA’s new Cultural Studies and Media Studies Area Director Lisa Perdigao, this panel featured Justin Johnston, Steven Stanley, and Christopher Culp analyzing different current or recent TV shows and trends through questions of futurity, queer theory, and other related issues. Given that Christopher played a clip from my favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode (and perhaps my favorite hour of TV ever) as part of his analysis of musical episodes, it’s difficult for me not to just focus on that moment here! But just as intriguing, and perhaps more intellectually necessary, was the way that Steven’s paper on American Horror Story: Coven challenged my prior perspective on the show’s troubling representation of the American past. I learn a great deal from every conference panel I get to attend, as exemplified by all three of these compelling converstions.
Last recap tomorrow,

PS. Were you at NeMLA 2015? I’d love to hear your follow ups as well—or your thoughts on this post even if you weren’t there!

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