Feeling (Un)American: Race and National Belonging in the African American Literary Tradition

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
North East Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
contact email: 

In his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois poses a question at the heart of the African-American literary tradition: “How does it feel to be a problem?” We see the question’s precursors in Walker’s Appeal, Douglass’ address on the Fourth of July, and Harper’s anti-slavery poetry. It reverberates in Hurston’s “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” Ellison’s “black and blue,” Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Rankine’s Citizen. Taking up the affective relationship between race and national belonging, these texts ask us to contend with what it feels like to be black in a nation founded on anti-blackness. Indeed, as Baldwin and Coates make clear, the problem lies ever “between the world and me.”


Renewed interest in Hortense Spillers and Frantz Fanon highlights the relevance of these questions now. So too, recent critical works, such as Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Christopher Freeburg’s Black Aesthetics and the Interior Life, and Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake mobilize the intimate and personal to explore how African-American subjects feel beyond the parameters of citizenship. 


This panel speaks to recent critical trends in affect studies, critical race theory, and American and African-American literature. In doing so, it expands upon Du Bois’ question by asking: What kinds of affective expression does the nation demand of black Americans? How has African-American literature wrestled with, circumvented, accepted, or defied such demands?


We invite papers that explore the connection between race, affect, and national belonging in African-American literature.


Topics may also include: 

  • Respectability Politics
  • Civility and Incivility
  • Sentimentality and Sentimental Literature
  • Biopolitics
  • Racial Uplift
  • Black Lives Matter


Please use the link below to submit a 250-word abstract and a short bio by September 30, 2019. 


For further information contact Gabrielle Everett (gabrielle.everett@rutgers.edu) or Margarita Castromán (margarita.castroman@rutgers.edu).