Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States

deadline for submissions: 
June 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Western Literature Association

The 2018 annual conference of the Western Literature Association will take place October 24-27 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference theme, “Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States” is derived from this location. 

This region, at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, has been urban for thousands of years: Cahokia, directly across the river from today’s St. Louis, housed the largest pre-Columbian civilization north of Mexico and was long a hub for trade, communication, and transportation throughout indigenous North America. Today it is well known for its impressive earthen mounds, which the Osage Nation, among other tribal groups, counts as an important ancestral site. Long before St. Louis was known as the “Gateway to the West,” it was nicknamed “Mound City.”

St. Louis would become a North American borderland, shaped by French, Spanish, and U.S. contact and conquest. With Missouri’s 1821 entry into the nation as a slave state, St. Louis became envisioned as a gateway to western freedom even while it maintained southern bondage. This position made it possible for hundreds of enslaved people, including Dred Scott, to attempt to sue for their freedom in St. Louis. Later, during the Exoduster movement, St. Louis indeed became a gateway to freedom for many African Americans migrating away from postbellum southern oppression. 

As an emblem of white flight and urban disinvestment in the 20th century, today St. Louis is home to newer immigrant communities and central to the Black Lives Matter movement. It continues to serve as a microcosm of U.S. racial histories and of both stubborn divisions and promising coalitions across lines of race, class, region, and nation. “Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States” is meant to evoke these confluences and crosscurrents.

Two Distinguished Achievement Awards will be presented at the 2018 conference, to creative writer Percival Everett and scholar José E. Limón; both will deliver keynotes.

Percival Everett counts among his many accolades two Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction. He is the author of around 30 books, many set in the American West. These include the parodic genre western God’s Country, as well as SuderWalk Me to the DistanceWatershedWoundedAssumption, and the recent short story collection, Half an Inch of Water. No contemporary African American author has represented the black western experience in such extensive, nuanced, and complex ways. Everett is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California. 

José E. Limón is the Notre Dame Foundation Professor of American Literature Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the Mody C. Boatright Professor of American Literature Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. His interdisciplinary work brings together literature, anthropology, and folklore in studies of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, Greater Mexico, and American regions and nations broadly conceived. Among his books are Dancing with the Devil: Society and Cultural Poetics in Mexican-American South Texas,Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican American Social PoetryAmerican Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States, and the Erotics of Culture, and Américo Paredes: Culture and Critique. He is currently working on a book titled Neither Friends, Nor Strangers: Mexicans and Anglos in the Literary Making of Texas.

We welcome proposals on any aspect of the literatures of the North American West, but especially encourage panels and papers that explore the following topics:

• St. Louis (or other western places) as Indigenous Hubs, Gateways, or Borderlands
• The African American West
• Jazz and Blues and the American West
• The Art and Literature of Black Lives Matter
• St. Louis Freedom Suits
• The Work of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner Percival Everett
• The Critical Legacy of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner José E. Limón

Proposals for panels and roundtable discussions should include an abstract for each paper or presentation. The deadline for submissions is June 15, 2018 at the following URL: https://www.conftool.pro/wla-conference-2018/

Please feel free to contact Michael K. Johnson or Emily Lutenski at WLAConference2018@westernlit.org with any questions.