Anglophone / American Literature

This area of inquiry promotes the study of literary and cultural relations embodied in works by authors from the United States and across the Americas.

American Literature has traditionally referred to works of fiction by United States authors. Recent scholarship has begun to erode this distinction as studies question the relevance of national boundaries to creative expression. NeMLA recognizes the usefulness of the term “American Literature” as a logistical tool to help us review proposal submissions and organize conference panels but has added the term “Anglophone” to acknowledge that the United States does not represent the sum total of literature written in the Americas. Under my leadership as Area Director for Anglophone/American Literature, I hope to build membership among scholars studying Latin American literature written or translated into English and continue to grow the contributions of our Canadian membership. Together let us follow the flow of ideas across boundaries, real and imagined, and create a new model for understanding literary history that is better suited for the twenty-first century.

The Relationship of Content to Medium

One of the reasons for having Area Directors is to guide members in the process of submitting their conference proposals and ensure a reasonable mix of panels, roundtables, and workshops that don’t unnecessarily duplicate each other’s content. The flow of ideas can often frustrate those submitting proposals to NeMLA as much as Area Chairs, both of whom strive to determine the best fit within the larger conference structure for the issues being explored. A key factor in deciding whether a panel belongs in the Anglophone/American Literature Area is the ratio of content to medium present in the description. Panels examining issues of medium more than content traditionally have been assigned to the Cultural Studies and Media Studies Area of the conference. Comics and Graphic Novels along with Film and Television can often present a dilemma in considering this ratio. These forms defy an easy distinction between content and medium. Secondary area designations exist to alleviate this problem. They allow panel chairs to highlight the emphasis of their sessions, the primary area designation indicating the main focus of the session and the secondary a related but subordinate area of interest, and ensure a range of quality papers that examine both content and medium in relation to their topic. Digital texts also present a challenge for traditional classification schemes, but the current system still does an admirable job of evaluating and placing proposals in the area for which they are best suited.

Submitting a Panel Versus Submitting a Paper

Over the years NeMLA has grown considerably and this has made conference submissions quite competitive. Area Chairs review panel submissions to ensure quality, variety, and appropriateness. Sometimes a panel proposal does not contain enough description to allow potential presenters a reasonable context for submitting their papers or it might focus so closely on one issue that it might not attract enough submissions to create a panel. The best proposals are broad enough to encourage a wide range of submissions on the topic but are narrow enough to allow proper contextualization. They also provide a few examples of the questions and issues you envision your panel exploring. On occasion there may be significant overlap between panel topics forcing Area Chairs to choose one panel over another. If this is the case, another member of the NeMLA Board of Directors will be consulted and options discussed for either choosing one of the two panels or contacting chairs about the possibility of serving as co-chairs of one session.

Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses

The Anglophone/American Literature Area remains strong in the traditional areas of American literary study. Sessions on canonical U.S. authors such as Longfellow, Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, and William Faulkner are still present on our conference schedule. There are also abundant examples of scholarship on women and gender in the nineteenth and twentieth-century United States. NeMLA has additionally seen growth in panels on African-American literature of the twentieth century and early American literature. Room for development persists in a number of areas. Most notably there is still a shortage of panels discussing Asian American, Native American, and Latino/Chicano literature. In spite of this, I am happy to report that one panel in each area will be present in the schedule for the 2016 conference. Let’s hope that more submissions in these areas will continue to appear. I would be particularly happy to see growth in studies of writers from other countries in North and South America addressing issues pertaining to American Literature and its relationship to discourses of nationalism. America is an idea, after all, while the United States is a nation. There is also room for improvement in the area of Digital scholarship after the spike in sessions on this topic in Boston (2013) and subsequent decline over the last two years. How do digitized and digital born texts change the ways in which we understand American Literature?

The Way Forward

What happens next in the Anglophone/American Literature Area depends as much on your input as it does on my ideas. Please contact me at the email below. NeMLA also encourages its members to contact anyone on the Board of Directors (including me) with questions as well as suggestions related to the organization.

Area Director

Benjamin Railton <brailton@fitchburgstate.edu>
English, Fitchburg State University