CFP for Edited Collection: Primary Stein (Abstracts by May 15, 2012)

full name / name of organization: 
Janet Boyd (Fairleigh Dickinson University) and Sharon Kirsch (Arizona State University)

The overwhelming success of Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas finally confirmed Stein's celebrity status in the United States in 1933. Yet she lamented that she had become known less as an important author than as the host of a Parisian salon in which famous writers and European painters gathered amidst her collection of modern art. Her earlier, more challenging writing continued to go unnoticed and unpublished despite the wide public appeal of the autobiography and the success of Virgil Thomson's production of Stein's opera Four Saints in Three Acts in 1934. Her growing popularity in the United States induced the reluctant Stein to return for a lecture tour through which she would introduce her more obscure work to an American audience—even if it meant having to explain it to them. As she tells us, she "want[ed] readers not collectors. . . she want[ed] her books read not owned" (Autobiography 301).

Even so, few scholars took serious interest in Stein before the mid-twentieth century, and, even then, the criticism that emerged tended to make Stein herself the main subject. In the later 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Stein's writing began to receive attention from a variety of scholars: those who sought to align her literary aims with the Cubist painters; feminists who read her work as a challenge to patriarchal language; and critics who examined Stein's writing as a more general subversion of the process of signification. In the 1990s, Stein criticism turned its focus to how her writing engages issues of American national and/or cultural identity. As Lisa Ruddick observes, "work in a cultural studies mode. . . moved the conversation about Stein's artistic innovations beyond a sense of her offering a challenge to patriarchy in the abstract" and into "larger cultural fields—fields defined by discourses of race and ethnicity" (Modern Fiction Studies 648).

Most recently, Stein the celebrity has re-emerged. Her life has again become the focus of scholarly inquiry in articles, books and exhibits: Stein's politics, Stein's friendships, Stein the collector, and Stein the visual icon. Popular interest in Stein has of late generated The Steins Collect museum exhibit, a children's book celebrating her writing, a novel told from the perspective of Stein and Toklas's Vietnamese cook, and Stein as a character in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. In addition, Seeing Gertrude Stein, the companion book to the current exhibit of the same name, creates a cultural and visual portrait of Stein, rendering "a richly complex woman" whose "contradictions ran deep" (7). No doubt, these recent examinations enrich and complicate our understanding of Stein and of how we might read her work, as she implores us to do.

Here, in response to these current trends, we seek to assemble a collection of essays that turns the lens back on Stein's writing, in and across all genres in which she wrote. We are interested in scholarly essays that take Stein's primary works as their core analytical focus. We do not suggest jettisoning contextual approaches, but we do encourage inquiry into the writing itself, in all its historical trajectories and discursive iterations. Essays might ask what it is we learn from the tensions produced in Stein's work in order to expand fields of inquiry and transform the ways we can read, write about, and teach her writing.

The editors are pleased to report that this project has already received attention from a scholarly press. Please send abstracts of 500-700 words (final essays to range from 4,000-8,000 words), brief bios, and CVs to Janet Boyd ( and/or Sharon Kirsch ( by May 15, 2012. Queries are welcomed.
Possible topics (others are welcome):
Genre studies
Travel writing
War narrative
Racial theory/identity
Queer theory
National/ethnic identity
Political discourse
Advertising/public relations