Nella Larsen’s Passing at Ninety

deadline for submissions: 
August 1, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Donavan Ramon, Kentucky State University
contact email: 

Nella Larsen’s Passing at Ninety

Guest Editor: Donavan L. Ramon, PhD

Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies, Kentucky State University

When Nella Larsen published her second novel Passing in April 1929, the critical reception was mixed. Writing for local papers in New York, some critics found the novel’s conclusion abrupt, ambiguous, and unconvincing. However, Alice Dunbar-Nelson noted that the novel “delights,” while W.E.B. DuBois praised it as a novel “of great moral import.” In his review, DuBois hoped that passing would one day emerge as a “a petty, silly matter of no real importance which another generation will comprehend with great difficulty.”

            In the ninety years since the publication of Larsen’s most famous work, Passing is still of “importance” – both as a concept and as a novel. The term “passing” is now used to categorize anyone who jumps social boundaries, which proves that those boundaries were not as rigid as they originally appeared to be. For instance, many critics derided Rachel Dolezal over her claim to be a black woman even though she was born white. Moreover, Colson Whitehead employed this concept in The Underground Railroad, his critically acclaimed novel from 2016. The main characters pass as free during their extended escape from enslavement. Perhaps it is only fitting that “passing” now has a more expansive definition; Nella Larsen’s Passing is not just about race, since the main characters also pass via class and sexuality. As a result, Passing has influenced a variety of scholarly areas since its first publication; most notably, queer theorist Judith Butler referenced it in her examination of intersectionality.

This special edition of SAMLA's Journal - South Atlantic Review - will commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of Larsen’s Passing by examining the influence it has had over a variety of areas, including American Literature, African American Literature, pop culture, and queer theory. Moreover, it will examine the relevance of the novel today, in light of a post-Obama America. Potential topics can include (but not limited to):

  1. How has Passing influenced the ways in which we discuss the phenomenon of “passing?”
  2. How has Passing influenced global literary traditions (I.E. World literatures, American Literature, African-American Literature, Literature by women?)
  3. How is this novel still relevant today (I.E. in literature, culture and/or the media?)
  4. How do critical theories employ this novel (I.E. queer theorists, critical race theorists, psychoanalytic theorists, social class theorists, etc…?)
  5. How can we teach this text and make it relevant for twenty-first century students?
  6. What new analyses can we make of this novel, which has been well tilled but still elicits generative conversation?

Please email me ASAP at donavanramon@gmail.com if you are interested. Put "Larsen" in the subject line. Right now, I'll just need your name, affiliation, and potential topic.

I'll ask for abstracts by August 1st 2017, and our goal is have this published in 2019.