Rukeyser's Difficulty: ALA 2022 Chicago

deadline for submissions: 
January 14, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
American Literature Association Annual Conference
contact email: 

Call for Papers: Rukeyser’s Difficulty 

American Literature Association Annual Conference 

Chicago, IL, May 26-29, 2022

Today we remember Muriel Rukeyser as a political poet whose writing bears witness to the wars, crises, and social justice movements of the 20th century: the Great Depression, two world wars, Scottsboro Trials, Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster, Spanish Civil War, feminism’s second wave, and the Vietnam War. Yet, far from offering clear testimonies of these events, Rukeyser’s poems are often obscure, allusive, long, and downright difficult. Much of her work remains unpublished or unfinished, and the narrative of her life is not fully known. Her work may be easy to paraphrase, but it can also be delightfully and maddeningly hard to read. How much do we really know about Rukeyser’s work and life, and what still remains to be understood? What is it about Rukeyser that continues to beguile, intrigue, enchant, frustrate, and confound old and new generations of scholars?

This panel invites scholarship that explores the conflicts and complexities that animate Rukeyser’s life and work, asking, “What’s difficult about Muriel Rukeyser?” We understand “difficult” to possess a variety of meanings, and we welcome paper topics related, but not limited to: 

  1. Formal difficulty; Rukeyser’s relationship to modernism
  2. The relationship between aesthetics and politics, or poetry and propaganda
  3. Archival mysteries and discoveries
  4. Biographical studies
  5. Ethics; Are Rukeyser’s politics and activism still relevant for our times? 
  6. Questions of race, class, and gender
  7. Sympathy, empathy, compassion––and their limits
  8. Genre and media studies

Please send 300-500 word abstracts, a brief bio, and CV to Jackie Campbell at The deadline for proposals is Friday, January 14, 2022, 5pm EST. Additional details about the 2022 ALA Conference may be found online at: