Proposing Panel on Carlene Hatcher Polite

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Proposing Panel to American Literature Association (May 22nd-25th)
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Carlene Hatcher Polite published two sui-generis novels—The Flagellants (1966) and Sister X and the Victims of Foul Play (1975)—that were widely reviewed as examples of cutting-edge African American fiction and attracted positive notice from people with tastes as different as Irving Howe, Roger Ebert, and Nikki Giovanni. Yet almost 50 years after The Flagellants, the MLA bibliography lists only 9 items that have addressed her work, and none since her death in 2009: none, indeed, in the 2000s.

If fiction was only a small part of a varied life—dancing in New York, civil rights work in Detroit, writing in Paris, teaching and local politics in Buffalo—the novels' strangeness shouldn't condemn them to the neglibly small space they currently occupy in the study of postwar US fiction. Their lack of academic notice is surprising in the light not only of their formal distinctiveness, but of the directness with which they treat some of the most contested cultural and historical questions in contemporary literary study.

To make a start on rectifying this neglect, I hope to propose a panel on her work for this year's American Literature Association conference (There's no guarantee that panels will be accepted once proposed, but I have successfully organised an ALA panel before).

Given the lack of prior academic work on Hatcher Polite, papers on any aspect of her life or writing would represent a contribution to the field, and proposals of all sorts are welcome. Some broad areas for examination might include:

- Her fiction in historical context.
- Her fiction's relation to literary fields like African-American fiction, the Black Arts Movement, feminist fiction, anti-mimetic fiction, protest fiction, postmodernism, poetic prose, dialogue fiction, oral literature, etc…
- Archival or bibliographical research.
- Teaching her work.
- Relationship of her writing to her biography, her political employment, her academic teaching.
- Her novels as New York novels, Detroit novels, Paris novels, Transatlantic novels.
- Her work's relation to other art forms: dance, music, poetry, etc…
- Reasons for her comparative academic neglect.
- The implications of her not publishing fiction after 1975.
- What Polite-opened forks in the road did American fiction not take?

Interested scholars should send a 250-word abstract to alimchet @ by January 2nd 2013. Anyone interested in chairing or serving as respondent without presenting a paper should also get in touch.

As the deadline for panel-proposals to the ALA is January 30th, I would aim to let authors know about their involvement in the proposed panel by January 10th, and then to work with those authors on crafting the overall proposal (requiring short academic biographies, the individual paper proposals, and an overall panel description) in the remaining time. In my experience the ALA are very quick making program-decisions, so the proposed panel's fate should be clear by mid-February. See here for more details on the process -