MLA Session, "Deliver Us To Normal: Children's Literature and the Midwest" (Chicago 2014)

full name / name of organization: 
Kate Slater / University of California, San Diego
contact email: 

Unlike the literature of the South or New England, Midwestern writing is often absent from academic discussions of American literary regions. Andrew R. L. Cayton argues that the Midwest constitutes an "anti-region," a slippery zone that lacks a consistent or distinct identity. The Midwest contains multiplicities and paradoxes that cannot easily be reconciled with one another to produce a cohesive, unifying concept of place. It is known for its cultures of niceness, of normalcy, and rootedness, but it is also ground zero for nineteenth century hypercolonization. Despite its reputation as a locus of rural Americana, it also contains major urban areas, some with international reach. These and other competing realities resist easy categorization of the region as fixed.

Presented at the 2014 Chicago MLA, this panel will consider the ways Midwestern children's literature both reproduces recognizable tropes associated with the region and subverts or challenges them, often within the same text. Works by Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Carol Ryrie Brink, L. Frank Baum, Gene Stratton-Porter, Louise Erdrich, Ellen Raskin, Richard Peck, Zane Gray, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kate Klise, Patricia McLachlan, Robert McCloskey, Lois Lenski, Lois Lowry, and numerous others repeatedly participate in these border crossings. Child characters and readers are themselves highly contested figures, in a state of continual transition between adult desires for them and their own developing agencies. Located in a geographic and discursive middle, sometimes outwardly simple and often deceptively complex, the Midwest finds a fitting home in its children's literature, which mirrors its critical concerns.

Topics prospective panelists might wish to address include, but are not limited to:

- children's literature and competing definitions of the Midwest
- the roles of Chicago or other Midwestern urban centers in works for children
- children's authors who live or lived in the Midwest
- the Midwest as a racial and cultural "contact zone"
- the relationship between written text and pictures about/of the Midwest in children's literature
- museums and other tourist sites in the Midwest with a relationship to children's literature, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder museums in Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
- depictions of agriculture, farming, and rural life for children

By 15 March 2013, please send 500-word abstracts to Kate Slater (

This guaranteed panel is sponsored by the MLA's Children's Literature Association. The 2014 MLA will be held in Chicago, 9-12 January 2014.