Thursday, March 12, 2020
March 12, 2020: NeMLA Recaps: Three Great Panels
[Last week was one of the busiest of my professional career, featuring a series of great Boston events, culminating in the 51st Northeast MLA convention. So this week I’ll recap that convention and those other events, leading up to a special weekend post on what’s next for NeMLA and how you can get involved!]
I had the chance to attend a number of great panels at NeMLA—here are takeaways from three particularly excellent ones:
1) A Space of One’s Own: I went to this panel on “articulating the scope of the female in American lit” in order to support my friend Katie Daily, whose wonderful first book won the NeMLA Book Prize a few years back and who presented on part of her next project (on 21C women’s combat memoirs). But Katie’s turned out to be the fourth of four compelling and compellingly interconnected papers, from Kait Tonti’s on 18th century commonplace books and political and social protest, to Vicki Vanbrocklin’s evolving concept of “lost womanhood” (an antidote to “true womanhood”), to Skye Anicca’s reading of late 20th century immigrant novels as intersectional alternatives to the bildungsroman. One of the most multi-layered conversations I’ve ever encountered in a panel, each distinct yet building on each other very powerfully.
2) Gothic Domesticity: One real benefit of being the NeMLA American Area (now renamed to the US, Transnational, and Diaspora Area) Director is the chance to watch panels develop from their initial proposal through the submission of abstracts and the choice of presenters up through their final form as the conference panels themselves. I felt that particularly strongly at this conference with Danielle Cofer and Caitlin Duffy’s Gothic Domesticity sessions, which began as one proposal and transformed into a two-parter after receiving so many great abstracts. I had a conflict with the first part, but got to see the great second half, featuring Beth Sherman on Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Kelly Suprenant on Jackson’s novel alongside Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, and Molly McCullough on the gothic orphan in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. I don’t want to speak for Danielle and Caitlin, but to me this session truly embodied the diverse and rich conversations their wonderful initial idea was intended to bring together and amplify.
3) Black Men, White Publishers: Another reason I love the chance to attend so many panels at NeMLA (which is really due to my role and my desire to support the American Area sessions) is that I learn so, so much in the process. I attended this panel to support my longtime fellow Board member and friend Don Ramon, who gave a great paper on Damon Young and the tradition of fight scenes in African American men’s memoirs. Ben Fried gave an equally great talk on the original New Yorker publication of and contexts for James Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region in My Mind” (later expanded as part of Notes of a Native Son). While I had some sense of both of those subjects, I knew precisely nothing about the topic of Emanuela Kucik’s talk: the memoir of Hans Massoquoi, the longtime Ebony magazine editor who grew up in Nazi Germany (the son of a Liberian father and German mother) and for a time in his early teenage years sought desperately to become a member of the Hitler Youth. That I had never heard of this striking figure and his stunning life and book offers one more example of why NeMLA is such a vital contributor not just to my communal and personal experiences, but to my knowledge and career.
Last recap tomorrow,
PS. If you were at NeMLA 2020, I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways as well!