The Contradiction of Youth: Children and Childhood in Culture

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
University of Southern Mississippi English Graduate Organization
contact email: 

The Contradiction of Youth: Children and Childhood in Culture

April 13-14 2018

University of Southern Mississippi




“You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing.” -Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbit


“I don't think I'm essentially interested in children's books. I'm interested in writing, and in pictures. I'm interested in people and in children because they are people.” -Margaret Wise Brown


“Childhood” is a contradiction. Everyone has the experience of being a child, yet childhood is not a universal experience, and it is an often idealized time that adults remember only imperfectly. In her entry on “childhood” in Keywords for Children’s Literature, Karen Sánchez-Eppler writes that non-fiction accounts of childhood “stress the complicated relations, and often glaring contradictions, between any society’s idea of childhood and the lived experience of actual children” (35). This disconnect—between the realities of childhood and the portrayal of childhood in texts for and about children—drives children’s studies scholarship.  

This conference seeks to initiate conversation about literature, movies, and art produced for children and young adults, as well as texts about children and young adults—that is, texts that depict themes of childhood and/or include young characters. We welcome proposals for scholarly papers and creative writing presentations related to childhood, children’s literature, and teaching children’s literature, as well as presentations about other related childhood studies topics. We especially hope to call attention to the contradictions and problematic dimensions of childhood: the inaccessibility of childhood to the adult, the fraught nature of childhood memories, and the tension between ideas and lived experiences of childhood. Moreover, adults in literature often embody youthfulness that can be viewed by others as a weakness—or a strength. The duality of youth—as a good and bad thing, sometimes simultaneously—makes it a complex topic for conversation and scholarly discussion.

This conference will take advantage of the resources at the University of Southern Mississippi, a leader in the study of children’s literature and childhood studies. USM has an extensive archival collection of artifacts, manuscripts, and texts in De Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, which we plan to tour during the conference. In addition to panels of creative and critical papers, the conference will feature an event with USM’s faculty in children’s literature, an event with the De Grummond Collection, and a keynote address. For updated information about these events, please check the conference website:


We are welcome scholarly and creative proposals on topics including:


  • Memory and memory loss in literature
  • The search for youth and vitality
  • Childhood and race, disability, gender, and/or LGBTQ
  • Beauty norms
  • Normative childhood
  • Monstrous youth (literal or metaphorical)
  • Childhood and alienation, stigma, and/or the Other
  • “Childlike” adults, mental health, disabilities studies
  • Memoirs and the art of writing about childhood
  • Youth in science and technology and/or sci-fi
  • Pedagogy and teaching (children’s literature or otherwise)
  • Nostalgia, memory, place, heritage, tradition
  • Parents, parenthood, parent-child dynamics, siblings
  • Historical ideas of childhood



Submission and Contact Information


We invite graduate students and advanced undergraduates to submit all proposals by January 15, 2018 to Mary Stephens and Bryana Fern at


In the proposal email, please include an attachment of your abstract along with your name, university affiliation, and any A/V requirements you need. If you are submitting a creative work, please also include the entire story, poems, or essay. If you require early notification of acceptance in order to make travel plans, please contact us.


We will send notification of decisions by February 1, along with details on the schedule and information about accommodations for the Hattiesburg area. There will be a small $10 registration fee for the conference, with the option of buying a conference t-shirt.