Genre and Gender Bending Through and With the Essay

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
contact email: 

The proliferation of essays on the essay is evidence of this literary form’s provocative nature. The essay compels us to reflect on what this art form “is,” while it avoids easy classification. In “She: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body,” Cynthia Ozick invites us to think of the essay not so much as a genre, but rather as a gender: “She is too fluid or too elusive to be a category... she is the protagonist, the secret self's personification…why should we not call her she?”

David Lazar builds on the relationship between genre and gender in “Queering the Essay.” Lazar draws an etymological connection between genre and gender noting that both are categories. He goes on to state that, “the gender category difficult to characterize by normative standards is queer. The genre category difficult or impossible to characterize, the essay, is also queer. The essay is the queer genre.” Indeed, both queerness and the essay defy straightforward signification. 

Our panel will delve into the relationship between genre and gender by considering examples of essays that bend both genre and gender. The personal essay, as a literary form of life-writing, provides a space in which the writer can test the boundaries of gender. Papers from our panel will center on essays that both experiment with form and that stretch, challenge, and rewrite our concept of identity as it intersects with gender and sexuality.

We welcome proposals for papers that focus on a particular essay or essayists that exemplifies the genre and gender bending nature of the essay. Papers should focus on American writers from any era. Possible questions to engage with: How does the literary form of the personal essay encourage the exploration of queer subjectivities? Why gender a literary form? What might be gained or what is at stake in this approach?

Please submit a 200-300 word abstract to the Northeast Modern Language Association portal ( by September 30.