Are We in a New Southern Literary Renaissance?
The 2020 meeting of the Modern Language Association will mark the one hundred year anniversary of the reprint of H.L. Mencken’s “The Sahara of the Bozart,” in Prejudices, Second Series, the scathing critique of the South as a “vast plain of mediocrity, stupidity, lethargy, almost of dead silence.” His impact on young southern writers was surprisingly inspirational and his words “played a great part in opening up the South to new ideas and instilling the habit of self-criticism,” according to Andrews, Gwin, Harris, and Hobson, who claim that Mencken was “an unlikely midwife for the Southern Renascence of the 1920s and 1930s.” Now, a century later, in an era underscored by terrorism, climate change, and evolving racial tensions, the first two decades of the twenty-first century have also seen an explosion of excellent writing by diverse and talented southern authors. Jesmyn Ward, Natasha Trethewey, and Kiese Laymon have poignantly voiced African American experiences in contemporary Mississippi, while writers such as Ron Rash, Tayari Jones, Karen Russell, Monique Truong, Silas House, James Hannaham, and LeAnne Howe have lyrically and powerfully depicted a variety of ethnic, sexual, and regional concerns. We are seeking 15-minute papers that investigate twenty-first century southern literature in any genre from practically any approach, including criticism and theory about very contemporary literature, discussions of this new literature in longer narratives of literary history, pedagogical approaches to teaching these works, theorizations of how this new southern literature engages in or is engaged by national discourse, and more. In keeping with MLA 2020’s theme of “Being Human,” specifically its call for work that intersects with human rights, special attention will be given to papers that address how writers and critics have responded to old and new threats to the rights of human beings, as well as the relationship of texts and forms of suffering such as slavery, racial oppression, colonialism, and gendered violence. Please send a 250-word abstract and a copy of your CV to Kirstin Squint at firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 March 2019.