The Adolescent Girl in Early 20th Century American Women's Writing (NeMLA 2014)

full name / name of organization: 
Leslie Allison

45th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 3-6, 2014
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Host: Susquehanna University


This seminar will investigate the shifting figure of the adolescent girl in early 20th century American women's writing. From 1900-1960, the adolescent girl, as an identity category, underwent huge cultural changes. In the early 1900s, adolescent girlhood was barely acknowledged as a developmental stage, whereas by 1945 the teenage girl had emerged, as one newsreel put it, "an American institution in her own right." With the legalization of birth control in 1960, the adolescent girl was poised to challenge American anxieties about body politics, economic consumption, and national identity, and she continues to do so today.

Yet although the rise of girl's studies as a field has produced rich investigations of popular representations of adolescent girlhood in film and male-produced texts in the first half of the twentieth century, little attention has been paid to how women writers during this time period were collectively negotiating girlhood in their works. How did women in the early 1900s write girl bodies compared to women in the 1930s? The 1940s? Were the central tensions of puberty the same in the 1920s as the 1950s, or were there crucial differences? Did women writers reinforce cultural norms of adolescent girlhood in their works, or did they create new, resistant models of girlhood? This seminar, then, seeks to create a space for such an exploration. I particularly welcome a dialogue that would put women writers of "adult fiction" (such as Willa Cather, Tillie Olsen, Gwendolyn Brooks, etc.) in conversation with women writers of "juvenile fiction" (Carol Ryrie Brink, Beverly Clearly, Madeline L'Engle, etc.). Selected panelists would circulate papers of 10-15 pages in advance of the conference.

Please submit an abstract of 250-300 words and a brief 150 word bio by September 30, 2013, to Leslie Allison at

Deadline: September 30, 2013

The 2014 NeMLA convention continues the Association's tradition of sharing innovative scholarship in an engaging and generative location. This capitol city set on the Susquehanna River is known for its vibrant restaurant scene, historical sites, the National Civil War museum, and nearby Amish Country, antique shops and Hershey Park. NeMLA has arranged low hotel rates of $104-$124.

The 2014 event will include guest speakers, literary readings, professional events, and workshops. A reading by George Saunders will open the Convention. His 2013 collection of short fiction, The Tenth of December, has been acclaimed by the New York Times as: "the best book you'll read this year." NeMLA's Keynote Speaker will be David Staller, Producer and Director of Project Shaw. Mr. Staller presents monthly script-in-hand performances of Bernard Shaw's plays at the Players Club in New York City.

Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however, panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.