CFP: The Crisis Within: The Challenges of Specializing in African-American Literature in a Traditional English Department (3/31/

full name / name of organization: 
Melissa Daniels

The Crisis Within: The Challenges of Specializing in African-American Literature in a Traditional
English Department

Call for Papers
Midwest Modern Language Association
8-11 November 2007

What does the traditional English department look like today? In many doctoral granting
institutions the English department can still be divided between Americanists and British
literature specialists. However, this division presents many obstacles for Ph.D students who desire
to spend their time in coursework researching African-American writers specifically. While most
syllabi in American literature courses include canonical African-American writers such as James
Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Richard Wright, writers such as Adrienne
Kennedy and Bruce Nugent appear less frequently. Moreover, students who have little to no desire to
teach Milton or Shakespeare are demanded nonetheless to take a substantial number of courses in
these fields, rather than immerse themselves in their intended areas of specialization. Why? This
panel seeks to answer this question, as well as accomplish two things: 1) to determine whether or
not the traditional English department is a practical environment to specialize in African-American
literature; and 2) to offer and explore practical solutions for PhD students who face this hurdle.
This panel seeks papers that address these questions and more. Possible topics include:

Visibility/invisibility of faculty members who specialize in African-American literature.

Representation of African-American writers in American literature courses.

Pedagogy: How do faculty members who identify as "Americanists" teach African-American literature?

Institutional requirements governing coursework: What types of classes are students required to
take at the PhD level? Are these requirements beneficial to students who desire to specialize in
African-American literature?

Attitudes and behaviors: How do "perceived" departmental attitudes toward the teaching of and
specialization in African-American literature influence graduate education, dissertations, and
career choices? What behaviors, amongst either faculty members or graduate students, exacerbate or
remedy the crisis? Are students encouraged to carve out a niche for themselves within the English
department, or are they sent "packing" to the African-American studies department?

Email abstracts, full-length papers, or questions by March 31, 2007 to:

Melissa Daniels
PhD Student
Department of English,
Northwestern University

Note: In order to present at the MMLA Convention, participants must remit organization membership
and conference dues to the organization by June 1, 2007. Full details about this process are
available at the MMLA website:

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Received on Sat Jan 06 2007 - 18:00:11 EST