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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,
PS. NeMLA reflections to share?

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