Frothy, Frivolous, or Feminist?: Expanding the Critical Discourse on Chick Lit and Women's Fiction

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American Literature Association
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Frothy, Frivolous, or Feminist?: Expanding the Critical Discourse on
Chick Lit and Women's Literature

In the introduction to their essay collection Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction, Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young state that, "[o]n one hand chick lit attracts the unquestioning adoration of fans; on the other it attracts the unmitigated disdain of critics" (1). Indeed, chick lit is enormously popular, and its commercial success extends well beyond the literary world—the genre continues to influence the television and film industry. Chick lit is, as Ferris and Young point out, "big business" (2). However, the popularity and commercial success of chick lit all but ensure it is dismissed critically. In fact, respected novelists like Beryl Bainbridge and Doris Lessing have dubbed authors who write chick lit as the "chickerati," and Bainbridge describes the genre as "froth" and a waste of time (1). The critical discourse on chick lit is largely negative, condemning the genre as "trivial" and dismissing the fans who claim it depicts the realities of contemporary single women's lives (2). In fact, the critical treatment of chick lit—or, the lack thereof—seemingly dismisses the genre purely because of its popularity, and most critics' unwillingness to take chick lit seriously is remarkably similar to the critical treatment of women writers of the late-18th and 19th-centuries. Writers such as Susan Warner, Sarah Josepha Hale, and E.D.E.N. Southworth, all of whom were enormously popular when originally published in the 19th century, have been largely ignored by the contemporary academy because their works are seen as didactic, sentimental, and unrealistic—all terms that have been applied to various works of chick lit.

For this proposed panel for the 2011 American Literature Association Conference, we seek papers that expand the critical discourse on chick lit as well as consider the genre in terms of the myriad of issues facing contemporary women—issues of race, femininity and feminism, class and consumerism, family and work, as well as dependence and independence. We further want to examine chick lit on a historical spectrum of women's fiction, to consider why works by women are continue to be devalued based on their popularity.

Please send abstracts of 300 words to Miranda Green-Barteet ( or Christine Demore ( by January 5, 2011. The 2011 ALA Conference will be held May 26-29 in Boston at the Westin Copley Place.