The Shape of the City: Urban Space and Identity in American Writing (NeMLA 2018 Pittsburgh)
Cities occupy physical, psychological, and cultural spaces that function, as Henri Lefebvre argues in The Production of Space, “in the establishment, on the basis of an underlying logic and with the help of knowledge and technical expertise, of a ‘system’” (11). More recently, Stephen Graham’s Vertical (2016) proposes a multi-layered matrix of spatial effects that examines how inequality is built, reinforced, and exhibited in the modern city space. American writers as disparate as Ralph Ellison and Herman Melville have explored urban spaces as psychologically daunting. John Edgar Wideman’s memoir Brothers and Keepers specifically explores how he and his brother moved through different spaces in Pittsburgh and the impact of neighborhood on individuals. This panel will explore how American writers of any era depicted urban spaces in their writings, from the transformation of colonial outposts to bustling metropolises to the gentrification and class homogenization in our current era. It is important to understand city space as constant development and redevelopment and how U.S. writers traced the development of urban centers and the people who built and shaped the identities of those cities even as the cities reshaped the people who moved through their spaces.
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