Society for the Study of Southern Literature Conference

Boston, March 10-12, 2016
The South in the North

Our conference in Spring 2016 will take place in Boston, beginning by mid-day Thursday, March 10, and continuing full days through Saturday, March 12. All session meetings will take place on the campus of Boston University, and conference room rates have been arranged at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cambridge, on the Charles River, directly across from the BU campus, and within short walking distance, beginning Wednesday evening, March 9, through Saturday evening.

Please circulate and publicize word about the conference. There’s been a lot of excitement about meeting in Boston, and we’re looking forward to a lively time. The organizing and program committee for SSSL Boston is Susan Scott Parrish (University of Michigan), Anthony Szczesiul (University of Massachusetts, Lowell), Melanie Benson Taylor (Dartmouth College), Lynnell Thomas (University of Massachusetts, Boston), Zackary Vernon (Merrimack University), and John Matthews (Boston University). We welcome proposals for individual papers and full panels. Pre-arranged panels are also welcomed. We invite calls for papers for panels, and will post them on the SSSL Facebook and webpage. Feel free to contact us as early as you’d like about preliminary ideas and suggestions. Proposals for individual papers should include title of paper, abstract (maximum 250 words), and presenter’s affiliation. Proposals for panels should have such information for all participants. Please direct all correspondence to John Matthews at

SSSL’s meeting in Boston will be the first the organization has held in a location north of the Mason-Dixon line. Ironically, in many ways this has never mattered less, as Southern literary studies’ formative focus on regional difference and distinctiveness has been retrained to take in a broader view of the South’s reciprocal material and imaginary relations with the US North, other regions, the nation, and transnational permutations of North/South dynamics. As scholars of a regional literature, we have been invigorated by innovative scholarship on the way the imagining of region figures in the imagining of nation, on the construction and consequences of Southern exceptionalism, on the continued expansion of analytical concepts of Southernness (and Northernness) in hemispheric, transatlantic, and global contexts. Now well-established, the shift from east-west to north-south axes in cultural as well as economic, political, and other fields, invites continued exploration of its local, regional, national, hemispheric, and global manifestations. To make the most of meeting in Boston to discuss Southern literature, the topic for SSSL 2016 at its inception four years ago was agreed upon as “The South in the North.” An earlier symposium on this topic took place at Simon Fraser University this past January, and a special issue of Global South devoted to its proceedings, co-edited by Leigh Anne Duck and Jon Smith, is scheduled to appear around the time of our Boston conference.

Although the Boston program organizers have come up with as comprehensive a set of possible subtopics and prompts as we could for SSSL 2016, we mean to take full advantage of the flexibility allowed by a topic as open as “The South in the North.” “the”? “in”? What Souths and Norths? What particular systems, areas, subcultures combine or disaggregate in the formation of such monoliths? This is a topic that invites reversal and critique; challenges provoked by the formulations below will be as welcomed as guidance by them. We also emphasize that, as we’ve always done in our conferences, papers and panels not directly on the main topic are also welcomed, since our meetings are meant for the exchange of new research in all areas in which our members work.

Deadline for proposals is November 15, 2015.

Here are some headings:

Regional fantasies and national imaginary

* How might we expand, refine, or challenge recent discussions of the South as a construction or projection of northern imagining? How widely might we extend notions of the North to include settler colonies like Canada that were also involved with slavery, US commercial development and imperial expansionism, sectional strife, and so forth? What other extra-national sites reflect imagining “a South” for the purposes of forming identity? What does it mean for the US South and Southwest to function as the north for populations south of the US border?

* Was the US north formed by the disavowal of its own regional status, perhaps obscured by an identity as “New England”? To what extent might studies of New World colonialism more broadly bring New England under the rubric of a past global “South,” a plantation colony that later fantasized itself as nation-North, and projected colonial relations onto its regional southern other? How might we think of national US literature as a regional New England literature that became predominant? How do we explore the literary implications of the North’s disavowal that national prosperity rested on the foundation of plantation economy, and that white majority identity required looking away from the actualities of racial heterogeneity? How might these questions augur the eventual absorption of southern studies into American studies, at the point at which “the South” will have been resituated as the center rather than the periphery of the New World European colonial project that produced the US, among other hemispheric nation-states?

* As symptoms of Global Climate Change appear with greater frequency, one manifestation is that the North (US or Global) will begin to have more experiences typical of the South (US or Global) in the form of hurricanes, heat waves, coastal inundation, etc. We might think of this as “Northern tropicalization.” What will this climate shifting, this new significance of latitudes, in which more of the planet may be characterized by tropicality or neo-tropicality, mean for relations between populations north and south? How will it change epistemology and political action on climate change? What will happen when the North reverts to being southern, when many of the South’s catastrophic ills move north?

* To what extent does a North/South dyad continue to obscure the multi-faceted relations of the midwest, southwest, and northwest to the nation’s southern other? What are other regions’ relations to a Deep South/New England structural logic?

* How has the “turn to the native” in American and Southern studies challenged European-derived mappings of North America into southern and northern monoliths?

* What is the relation of cultural apparatuses to cultural practices not represented by print culture in other regions? Or to alternative print cultures? Or alternative cultural modes of symbolism, expression, interpretation?

* How might we understand the geography and periodization of the civil rights movement from the standpoint of the South in the North? Recent work by Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, for example, (in their edited collection Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980) might suggest how northern cities such as Boston engaged what they recognized as historically Southern questions.

* Is there more to say about Southern sojourns remembered in Northern retrospection? There are the familiar examples: Philadelphia native William Bartram’s southern travels and failed attempt at Florida plantership, much of which made it into his Travels; or the Charleston letter from Crevecoeur’s Letters of an American Farmer; or Muir’s A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, along with numerous others.

Continental, Caribbean, hemispheric, transatlantic, and global Norths and Souths

* In what ways have ideas of and scholarship on the global South continued to expand? (Nhu Le offers a 2010 summary here with a list of texts here that highlight some of the different directions that have opened in the fields of Caribbean studies, postcolonial studies, and American studies.) How has comparatist work in Iberophone and other literatures of the hemisphere continued to reshape our understanding of North/South oppositions?

* What are some of the shared issues between Canadian and southern studies? Do these issues involve a shared belatedness or marginality vis-à-vis American studies, a shared set of opportunities and innovativeness, or both? Does the idea of southern exceptionalism help illuminate the idea of Canadian exceptionalism, or vice versa?

* What are the implications of recent scholarship that addresses the way other ethnic groups such as Asians were brought under the US South’s system of racial classification? How did Jim Crow function as a baseline for perceptions of “interstitial” racial/ethnic identities?

* Historians of early modern European empires have remarked upon the ways that agricultural staples grown in the plantation tropics–tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, cotton, etc.–were consumed by and changed the material cultures of European metropoles and provinces. Might we want to think about, along these lines, northern cities’ consumption of tropical foodstuffs? New England’s place in the triangular trade, whether that has to do with sugar/ molasses or cotton / textile production or the importation of African people? How did these southern ‘goods’ change the material, cultural and social landscape of the North? Broad categories might include: consuming the South, or the North the South built, or the Southern material unconscious.

* To what extent do our understandings of older structures and forms of oppression characteristic of the South help us understand contemporary labor relations, trade, and neocolonialism, and influence writers’ and artists’ approach to such issues? To what extent do new patterns of migration–for both workers and capital–require us to shift our maps and recognize both new social struggles and new aesthetic forms?

* How might we think about the South that is carried out of it by expatriate writers who leave the region or even the nation? Is there more to be said about the northern writing scenes, educations, publication milieux of southern authors like Richard Wright, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, or Ralph Ellison, to mention just a few? How do reconsiderations of their work arise from or affect reconfigurations of north and south?

Southern and Post-Southern Imaginaries

* How do the plantation and post-plantation figure as specific tropes in contemporary culture: examples include Kara Walker’s cut-out plantation burlesques or her current “A Subtlety” installation in New York; Spike Lee’s documentary about Katrina; last year’s Twelve Years a Slave; the comedy/history online show “Ask a Slave.”

* What do we make of the continued outpouring of large- and small-screen visual cultural material with Southern content produced for national and international audiences? The popularity and cultural significance of Southern-sourced music?