Depression-era Environmental Literature in the U.S. (MLA 2021, Toronto)

deadline for submissions: 
March 10, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Matthew Lambert, Wabash College
contact email: 

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Dust storms. Flooding.  The fear of nuclear fallout.  While literary critics associate American authors of the 1930s and 40s with leftist political and economic thought, they often ignore concern in the period’s literature and other cultural works with major environmental crises.  In my forthcoming book, The Green Depression: American Ecoliterature of the 1930s and 40s (U of Miss. Press, Oct. 2020), I identify ways that depression-era literature contributed to shifts in conservationist thought during the period that would lay the groundwork for the development of environmental thought in the second half of the 20th century.  

One of the major impetuses of the book is to initiate a scholarly conversation that further explores the role of environmental thought and/or issues in literature from the late 1920s to the late 1940s.  This MLA "special panel" seeks to start such a conversation by inviting papers that respond to any of the following questions (or other questions relevant to the topic):  

--How does depression-era lliterature respond to major environmental issues during the period?  How does it provide a better understanding of the devastating effects that humans can have on the environment?  

--How do authors of the 1930s and 40s lay the groundwork for “environmental justice” by connecting environmental and racial, gender, and economic forms of exploitation?  

--How do other cultural media besides literature—including film, photography, painting, and music—explore ecological issues and ideas during the period?  What unique perspectives do these media contribute to understanding humanity’s relationship to the natural world and/or issues concerning environmental justice?  

--How do authors use different geographical landscapes (urban, suburban, wilderness, rural, etc.) or genres (nature writing, proletarian novel, science fiction, horror, etc.) to address/express major environmental issues/ideas during the period?  

--Finally, how do (or can) literature, film, and other forms of culture from the 1930s and 40s influence response to environmental crises during our own time?  

Please send a 250-word abstract and a brief bio to lambertm@wabash.edu by March 10th.  The MLA convention will be held in Toronto, Ontario, January 7-10, 2021.