Edited Collection 1/25/14 - "Like One of the Family: Domestic Workers, Race, and In/Visibility in Kathryn Stockett's The Help"

full name / name of organization: 
Fiona Mills, St. Anselm College
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Call for Papers for edited collection

Like One of the Family: Domestic Workers, Race, and In/Visibility in The Help

Kathryn Stockett's 2009 best-selling novel The Help, and its subsequent 2011 film, centers on the experiences of African-American domestic workers living in Jackson, Mississippi. Stockett's sanitized portrayal of life in the Deep South where black women were charged with rearing white children while concurrently barred from sharing toilets and common eating areas with their employers simultaneously enthralled and disturbed readers and viewers alike. Notably, it is not the domestics themselves who render their tales but rather Eugenia Phelan, a white twenty-something Mississippian with whom they hesitantly collaborate, who ultimately "voices" their stories of life during the harrowing early days of the Civil Rights movement in the Deep South. Essentially, these stories are articulated through the voice of a white woman; a fact that becomes even more complex when one acknowledges that this fictional tale of the inner life of black maids working in Jackson, Mississippi, one of the most notorious states in regards to racial atrocities suffered during the mid-twentieth century, is rendered through the words of a white southern writer, Kathryn Stockett; albeit someone who grew up with domestic help. While the 2009 novel of the same name spent over one hundred weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and the film adaptation won numerous prizes during the 2012 awards season, its sentimental portrait of the lives of African-American domestic workers is troubling due to its heavy-handed use of dialect and "feel good" message about the admirable interventions of a white protagonist intent on alleviating some suffering while glossing over the vicious attacks on African-Americans during the Civil Rights era all the while reinforcing the stereotype of the long-suffering but ultimately forgiving non-threatening mammy figure. This panel will consider why such sterilized versions of America's complex racial history resonate so deeply in our contemporary time frame.

This collection seeks papers that examine relationships between blacks and whites against the backdrop of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement as depicted in Kathryn Stockett's The Help and its subsequent 2011 film version. Comparisons between Stockett's novel and other works written either during or after the Civil Rights movement are encouraged as are examinations of the specific relationships between African-American domestic workers and white families in the U.S. South as well as comparisons between U.S. domestic workers and those in other countries. Please send 300-500 word abstracts to fionacmills@gmail.com

Deadline: January 25, 2014
Please include with your abstract:
A current C.V. AND a brief bio
Name and Affiliation
Email address
Postal address