How to Cope: Resilient Characters in 20th- and 21st-century Literature

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Valerie Thiers-Thiam / 53rd Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association

How does contemporary literature respond to and reimagine narratives of resilience? How can the concept of resilience be used to analyse characters in works of fiction?

In the fields of human development and psychopathology, resilience is defined as a dynamic process encompassing the maintenance of positive adaptation by individuals despite experiences of significant adversity. Research on resilience surged in the 90’s following Emmy Werner's groundbreaking studies on children in Hawaii and expanded to include multiple adverse conditions such as socioeconomic disadvantage and associated risks, parental mental illness, maltreatment, urban poverty and community violence, and catastrophic life events. More recently the focus has been on promoting competence and success, instead of focusing on reducing problems.

This panel will explore various forms of resilience and coping strategies developed by individuals and communities in 20th and 21st century literature. Examples of these strategies include the rejection of passive victimization; the power of dream and imaginary narratives; the ability to narrate trauma and to construct meaning through the writing process; psychological defense mechanisms such as denial, humor and irony; the distanciation from a transgenerational trauma and the re-appropriation of an obliterated family history.

This topic is of particular significance at a time when the whole world has to face the consequences of the COVID crisis.