CFP: Literature, Readers & Democracy (9/15/06; NEMLA, 3/1/07-3/4/07)

full name / name of organization: 
Jen Riley
contact email: 

Literature, Readers, and Democracy

"Democracy depends on engagement, a firsthand accounting of what one sees,
what one feels, and what one thinks, followed by the artful practice of
expressing the truth of our times through our own talents, gifts, and
vocations. Question. Stand, Speak. Act." –Terry Tempest Williams, The
Open Space of Democracy

Does literature today influence democracy or how readers think about
democracy? Robert Asen, in "A Discourse Theory on Citizenship," suggests
that "as a moral project, democracy calls for sustained engagement and
amelioration. Democracy does not appear in a set of problems that can be
solved conclusively. Striving for democracy constitutes a continuous
process. Democracy signals an orientation toward action in various domains
of human activity rather than a singularly delineated end" (198). The
concept of democracy is vital to our country and to American identity. As
we live in increasingly complex times, more and more Americans feel
alienated from the political process. It's important to consider how the
act of reading itself may be a powerful tool for sustaining democratic
principles of dialogue, debate, process, and justice. Examining the ways
in which contemporary writers play a role in provoking readers to consider
important issues (i.e. the environment, the political process, social ills
such as homelessness or AIDS, racism, and more) draws us to reader
response theories, the value of literacy in a democratic country, and the
belief that literature makes a difference.

There are many questions we can address when considering the connections
between literature and democracy:

**In what ways are contemporary American writers helping us create,
debate, and sustain democracy?
**How do contemporary American writers educate readers about the
importance of dialogue and process?
**What contemporary American writers are "expressing the truth of our
times" and in what ways?
**How do contemporary American writers enable readers to understand
differences outside of themselves and outside of their local communities?
**Does literature provide a space for sustained engagement with ideas and

Overall, how are contemporary American writers, to use Rosa Eberly's term,
engaged in creating readers who are citizen critics—readers involved in
producing "discourses about issues of common concern from an ethos of
citizen first and foremost—not as expert or spokesperson for a workplace
or as a member of a club or organization"? (Citizen Critic, Univ. of
Illinois Press, 2000).

This panel seeks 500-word proposals that explore diverse ways in which
contemporary American writers call upon readers to engage actively with
the worlds around them and to see themselves as necessary participants in
building and sustaining democracy. Please email proposals as Word document
attachments, with the subject line NEMLA 2007 Literature, Readers, &
Democracy, to Jen Riley at by September 15, 2006.


Jeannette E. Riley
Associate Professor, English
Director, Women's Studies
UMass Dartmouth
285 Old Westport Road
N. Dartmouth, MA 02747

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Received on Mon Jun 26 2006 - 18:26:26 EDT