Graphic Wests

deadline for submissions: 
July 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Western Literature Association

Due to the unusual and unprecedented public health concerns and attendant restrictions on university sponsored-travel related to COVID-19, the 2020 conference will be held virtually.


The American West and the western have long been nurtured by visual culture, in particular via the California-specific locations of Hollywood and its ties to the film industry and San Diego as the international headquarters for comic book culture. Drawing on this mixture, the theme “Graphic Wests” invites proposals that take up the graphic in all its connotations, from graphic content to visual texts as well as the intersections of the two when considering the varied literatures and cultural products of the North American West. We also invite papers that address the unique culture of Southern California, such as surf and coastal literatures, along with papers that examine California writers and themes.

The 2020 Distinguished Achievement Award winners include poet Juan Felipe Herrera (21st National Poet Laureate), and fiction author Stephen Graham Jones, whose works exemplify “Graphic Wests.” Confirmed speakers include: Stephen Graham Jones, novelist Rebecca Roanhorse and graphic novelist, playwright, and singer/songwriter Arigon Starr.

Since we originally intended to host this meeting in Southern California, we are still interested in proposals that focus on issues related to California and the American West but as always, the WLA meeting remains interested in proposals that focus on any aspect of the literatures and cultures of the North American West (including Canada and Mexico).

In addition to proposals on any aspect of the literatures and cultures of the North American West, the WLA especially encourages panels and papers that explore the following topics:

  • Comic books/graphic novels set in the West and/or western comics
  • Filmic and televisual representations of the West/western
  • Borderlands literature
  • Graphic violence, language, and/or sexuality in the West/western
  • Texts set in the West, or that take up western themes, that incorporate visual elements or make use of graphic design in their engagement with language
  • Approaches to teaching texts and topics of the North American West
  • California writers and texts (Le Guin, Steinbeck, Didion, Mary Austin, John Rollin Ridge, Helen Hunt Jackson, María Ruiz de Burton, etc.)
  • Writers and texts that explore California surfing and beach culture
  • The work of invited speakers Rebecca Roanhorse and Arigon Starr
  • The work of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner Juan Felipe Herrera
  • The work of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner Stephen Graham Jones


While we are still interested in traditional 4 person panels, this format may not be as captivating in an online format. We encourage proposals for innovative formats that will take advantage of the virtual (and graphic) nature of the conference. We are also implementing a range of formats including:

Lightning Talks - 5-6 presenters. Each with a 5-7 minute presentation time. Proposals can range from concise traditional-type presentations to Ignite or PechaKucha 20x20 style talks. Abstracts for Lightning Talks should be 200 words.

Conversation Panels - (Preformed Panels Only) Propose to help facilitate a focused conversation on a topic relevant to WLA members. Each scheduled conversation will have 2 or 3 leaders to share responsibility for its focus, depth, concreteness. This is NOT a traditional panel or a roundtable. This is a conversation that should include an audience participation component. Each of the 2 or 3 conversation leaders will submit an abstract of no more than 250 words explaining their individual contribution.

Public Intellectual Panels - (Preformed Panels Only) 3 presenters each with a 15-minute maximum for a talk designed particularly for an audience drawn from the general public. Be sure to identify your intended audience in your abstract (your local community gathered at the public library, a retirement community, etc...) and take care to shape your presentation for a non-academic audience. Abstracts for public intellectual talks should be 250 words.

Roundtables - Proposals for a Roundtable (5-6 presenters) should be presentations of 5-6 minutes each. Roundtables differ from Lightning Talk panels in that the while preformed Lightning Talk panels might be thematically coherent each presentation is individual. Roundtables typically take the shape of a larger discussion or debate based on the brief comments of the presenters. The organizer must submit an overview of the Roundtable in an abstract of no more than 250 words. Each presenter on the Roundtable will submit an abstract of no more than 200 words explaining their individual contribution


Presenters on preformed panels and roundtable discussions must submit proposals individually.


Proposals can be submitted using the WLA Conference Conftool portal:


Please submit questions to Rebecca M. Lush or Kerry Fine at