Proposed Edited Collection: Theorizing Ethnicity in the Chick Lit Genre

full name / name of organization: 
Erin Hurt
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Though the chick lit genre is most often cited as a location for the study of contemporary white women's experiences or perhaps to debate the genre's feminist credentials, it has in the last fifteen years emerged as a site where protagonists of many ethnicities negotiate their cultural identities and notions of national belonging. In novels such as Alisa Valdes Rodriguez's The Dirty Girls Social Club (2003) or Tara FT Sering's Amazing Grace (2008), Latina, African-American, South Asian-American, and Chinese-American protagonists redefine their relationship to the United States, their families, and their heritage while at the same time they attempt to achieve, in typical chick lit fashion, some measure of success. Yet, the extant scholarly work on chick lit (e.g., Ferriss and Young's Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction (2006), Harzewski's Chick Lit and Postfeminism (2011), etc.) focuses almost exclusively on white chick lit, perhaps unsurprisingly since scholars frequently posit Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones (1996) and HBO's Sex and the City (1998) as ur-texts of the genre. These books, and a slew of articles, share the same underlying assumption: we are discussing a white woman's experience in the world. Scholars such as Lisa A. Guerrero, Jigna Desai, Pamela Butler, and Tace Hedrick argue that the aspirations of chick lit protagonists change as we shift from white characters to characters of other ethnicities. Guerrero writes, "Chicks are looking for love because, as white women, they have been taught to believe in their preciousness and the fact that they should be loved, even worshipped. […] Sistahs are looking for worth because, as black women, they have been taught by society to believe in their disposability and the fact that they should be loathed, even demonized. Having grown suspicious of these truths, sistahs seem to be seeking validation of their suspicions." The white-centric perspective that permeates much of the theoretical work on chick lit has limited scholarly attention to non-white chick lit novels. Furthermore, by ignoring the sociocultural context of these non-white characters' lives, scholars of chick lit have produced warped readings of works featuring protagonists of color but also a false vision of the genre as a whole.

To serve as a corrective for this inattention to ethnicity, Theorizing Ethnicity in the Chick Lit Genre [working title] will be an edited collection with a threefold purpose: to uncouple the larger category of chick lit from a white-centric subgenre, to call attention to the variety of chick lit categories and texts, and to offer strategies for bringing these texts into the classroom. The collection takes up Pamela Butler and Jigna Desai's call, in their examination of South Asian chick lit, to imagine white chick lit as just one category of a much larger field that encompasses Latina chick lit, African-American lit, South Asian-American chick lit, and more. These essays will theorize about the genre so as to account for the full range of women's experiences that it represents as well as demonstrate how various forms of chick lit navigate racial politics and representation. Furthermore, essays in this collection will speak to how representations of women in these novels construct but also disrupt constructions of nationality and cultural citizenship.

I invite essays addressing various theoretical and pedagogical concerns about the genre of chick lit. Below is a list of possible topics and approaches, but others are welcomed:
• The consequences of decentering whiteness in chick lit
• Strategies for shifting whiteness from center to margin
• The possibilities of a more expansive notion of chick lit
• Alternative histories of the genre
• Definitions of one or more of chick lit categories (such as chica lit, desi lit, sistah lit, etc.)
• Analysis of tropes within one or more chick lit categories
• Examinations of one or more tropes across chick lit categories
• Readings of cultural citizenship and US identity in the chick lit genre
• Close readings of specific novels within one or more chick lit categories
• Approaches or practices used when using these novels in the classroom
• Narratives of challenges and/or struggles when teaching ethnic chick lit novels

Proposals should describe the primary topic or issue that the chapter will cover, along with a brief description of your approach and purpose(s) for writing it. Final submissions should be chapters of approximately 15 to 20 pages, although pedagogical submissions may be shorter in length and/or may include teaching materials.

Project deadlines:
Proposals: March 15, 2015
Decision notifications: March 30, 2015
First drafts of chapters due: August 1, 2015

Please send a 500-word abstract and a short biographic note (50 words) including institutional affiliation and publications by March 15, 2015 to the editor, Dr. Erin Hurt (ehurt@wcupa.edu) with the subject line "Theorizing Chick Lit." All participants will be notified about decisions.