Pre-Conference Seminar Information

Pre-Conference Seminar Application Procedure:

Please apply to only one seminar. The deadline for application is the same as for the general conference (October 15). The application process is simple: send a paragraph to the seminar leader(s) and to describing how this seminar will be of benefit to your personal and/or professional goals. (If the seminar description asks for additional materials, please also provide these documents.) Applicants will be notified of their acceptance at the same time as they receive paper/panel notification.

The 2020 Society for the Study of Southern Literature will begin on Thursday, April 2 with five two-hour seminars (3-5pm). Each seminar will be limited to 15 participants, and participants will apply by sending a paragraph describing how this seminar will be of benefit to their personal and/or professional goals.

In selecting participants, seminar leaders will strive for a diversity of different institutions, academic ranks, and intellectual backgrounds. Graduate students, non-tenure track faculty, and contingent/independent scholars are strongly encouraged to apply. There is no additional conference fee for seminar participation.

The seminars will take different formats depending on the instructor: in some, participants might write brief position papers (5-7 pages) that are circulated and read prior to the conference; others might focus on working through a set of pre-circulated readings for discussion.

The format, pre-conference deadlines, and readings will be made clear in the seminar overviews circulated prior to the opening of conference registration (December 1, 2019). Regardless of the form, the goal of each seminar is to generate productive, collegial discussion, and to facilitate future collaborations.

The following seminars will be offered:

Environmental Justice and Ecological Souths

Seminar Leaders:

Amy Clukey, University of Louisville ( and Jonathan Villalobos, University of Texas at Arlington

We invite applications to the pre-SSSL 2020 seminar on Environmental Justice and Ecological Souths. Applicants selected for this seminar will be asked to compose a 5-7 page position paper no later than February 1, 2020. Papers will be disseminated among participants prior to the conference. We envision a lively and wide-reaching discussion about the numerous ecological and environmental justice issues facing scholars of Southern Studies.

Possible paper topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The literary and cultural legacies of hurricanes, including Katrina, Hugo, Maria, Andrew, etc.
  • The environment and race, particularly environmental racism
  • Global or planetary souths
  • Slavery and the environment
  • Oceanic souths
  • Appalachian Reckoning
  • Ecology and futurisms, particularly Afrofuturism 
  • Indigenous Souths, past and present
  • The Plantationocene/Anthropocene/Capitalocene
  • Climate change fiction, film, etc. 
  • Cultural responses to the Deepwater Horizon disaster
  • Cancer Alley, the coronary belt, medicine, and the body
  • Incarceration and detainment
  • Soil exhaustion, habitat destruction 
  • Animality and extinction
  • Environmental activism, past and present
  • Sharecropping, post-slavery plantations, agribusiness
  • Mountaintop removal/logging/other extractive industries
  • Environmental catastrophe
  • Neo-Confederacy and the environment
  • Eco-socialism or Eco-fascism

We encourage position papers that challenge established understandings of the three keywords in this seminar title: “justice,” “ecology,” and “Souths,” particularly in light of the theme of this year’s conference: Beyond Borders, Bars, and Binaries. Interested applicants should prepare a one-paragraph precis of their proposed topic and a short scholarly biography. 


Amy Clukey is associate professor of English at the University of Louisville. Her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Modernism/Modernity, PMLA, The New Hibernia Review, Modern Fiction Studies, American Literature, and Twentieth-Century Literature, among other venues. She co-edited a special issue of the journal Global South on the topic of “plantation modernity” with Jeremy Wells (2017). She is completing a monograph entitled Plantation Modernism: Transatlantic Anglophone Fiction 1890-1950. 

Jonathan Villalobos is an English Instructor at the University of Texas at Arlington. He earned his Ph.D. in English from the University of Nevada, Reno and has previously taught at Stetson University, UNR, and Ranger College. He has been published in Ecocriticism and the Future of Southern Studies and the forthcoming Appalachian Ecocriticism. He is currently at work on a manuscript concerning ecohorror and environmental trauma in post-1900 U.S. Southern literature.

Southern Horrors: Afrosouthernfuturism and the Black Speculative Arts

Seminar Leaders:

Constance Bailey, University of Arkansas (

Joanna Davis-McElligatt, University of North Texas (

Mikal Gaines, MCPHS University (

Recently scholars have begun to explore how black artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers construct blackness, black embodiment, and black experiences in the speculative arts. Indeed, as Isiah Lavender III has argued, “one might argue that chattel slavery is an apocalyptic event that created black experience in the new world as a real science fiction.” In this way, black speculative fiction has long served as a critical response to the trauma and potential of black life, deployed strategically to think in and beyond our current moment, and to make sense of our histories. This is especially important given that, as DeWitt Kilgore argues, “Afrofuturism can be seen as less a marker of Black authenticity and more a cultural force, an episteme that betokens a shift in our largely unconscious assumptions about what histories matter and how they may serve as a precondition for any future we may imagine.” To this end, Afrofuturism is, according to Ytasha Womack, “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation.” Afrofuturism as an aesthetic movement, then, contends directly with the horrors of black life from slavery into those attending an uncertain future. Anchored not only in technological responses to black suffering, Afrofuturism across genres reshapes and expands upon conceptions of black people as human, nonhuman, and posthuman.

From Charles W. Chestnutt’s 1899 The Conjure Woman and Pauline E. Hopkins’ 1903 Of One Blood to Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 Sing Unburied Sing and N.K. Jemisin’s 2018 How Long ‘til Black Future Month?, Afrosouthernfuturism is rooted in imaginings of black futures (and, at times, black pasts) both enmeshed in and envisioned beyond our current planetary time and space—yet always specifically located in a southern space and place. As R. Scott Heath has explained, the “planetary south” is configured as a place where “race, space, time, and newer technologies” are “launched from the south, from a south, or from a southern idea.” Afrosouthernfuturism, then, actively contends with what Saidiya Hartman has described as “the routinized violence of slavery and its aftermath through invocations of the shocking and terrible,” while also shaping worlds within conceptual frameworks of ontological freedom, articulated by Frank Wilderson III as “freedom from the world, freedom from Humanity, freedom from everyone (including one’s Black self).” By imagining blackness beyond and within the boundaries of the human body, the US south, and the planet, Afrosouthernfuturist texts are vital explorations of the (un)certainty of black survival and the promise and potential of black futures.

The goal of this seminar is to bring together scholars interested in working toward a critical definition of Afrosouthernfuturism in southern studies, African American studies, critical race and ethnic studies, studies of race and speculative fiction, and/or Anthropocene studies. Seminar participants will circulate a short position paper that would consider how Afrosouthernfuturism might be defined in literature, music, visual art, film, and culture within these fields.

Possible topics include:

  • Genres of Afrosouthernfuturism in literature, art, culture (fantasy, cyberpunk, science fiction, dystopian/utopian, alternate history)
  • Constructions of the human and alien/Other/nonhuman
  • The politics and ethics of worldbuilding 
  • Black affect and the politics of emotion
  • Representations of space-time or other dimensions
  • Black posthumanity and Afro-pessimism
  • Gender and sexuality in Afrosouthernfuturism 
  • Morrison’s Africanist Presence and Afrosouthernfuturism


Constance Bailey is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas. She holds a joint appointment in English and African and African American Studies. Her research interests include African American folklore, American comedy and humor, and black speculative fiction. She is currently working on her first manuscript: The Black Collegian in the Popular Imagination

Mikal J. Gaines, Ph.D is an Assistant Professor of English at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, MA. His research focuses on primarily on Black Film, Media, and Cultural Studies, Horror Studies, and spectatorship. His work can be found in The Projector: A Journal on Film, Media, & Culture, Fight the Power: The Spike Lee Reader, Merchants of Menace: The Business of Horror Cinema, as well as in the forthcoming anthologies, The Spaces and Places Horror and Jordan Peele’s Get Out: Political Horror. He is also spoken word artist who performs regularly in the Boston Area.

Joanna Davis-McElligatt is an Assistant Professor of Black Diasporic Literature at the University of North Texas. She is is co-editor of Narratives of Marginalized Identities in Higher Education: Inside and Outside the Academy (Routledge 2018), Narrating History, Home, and Nation: Critical Essays on Edwidge Danticat (U of Mississippi P, under contract), and BOOM! #*@&! Splat: Comics and Violence (U of Mississippi P, under constract). She is currently at work on her first monograph, Black and Immigrant: The New Black Diaspora in American Literature and Culture, a critical exploration of representations of immigrants of African descent to the U.S. from Afropolitans to Wakandan Americans. Her scholarly work has appeared in south: a scholarly journal, A History of the U.S. South (Cambridge UP, under contract), Small Screen Souths: Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television (LSU P 2017), Critical Insights: The American Identity (Salem P 2014), among other places. 

Inside Voices: Power and Pedagogy in Prison

Seminar Leader:

Jennie Lightweis-Goff, University of Mississippi (

At a 2012 address to the Futures of American Studies Institute, Hortense Spillers asserted the urgency of critical interventions against mass incarceration, urging scholars to have these conversations now, lest they have them in prison rec yards. Since Spillers’s address, scholars and activists have demanded greater attention to the relationship between the public sphere and the plantation, and the prison and the plantation. Too seldom have we considered the ways that our institutional lives within colleges and universities parallel the institutional life of the prison, whose bars and walls are designed not simply to keep outsiders “safe”, but insulated from knowledge of the violence done in their names.

Inside Voices is structured as a roundtable in which participants write 5 – 7 page position papers on the prison. Position papers are broadly conceived as mirroring and adapting to presenter’s positionality; as such, the organizers might include narrative encounters with carceral space; policy prescriptions for reimagining the relationship between the prison and the region, the university and the jail; and, with sufficient grounding in prison studies, textual readings that foreground carceral space. The organizers strive to include teachers and organizers who have worked in prison in formal and informal senses, especially the formerly incarcerated. 


Jennie Lightweis-Goff is an Instructor at the University of Mississippi and an Invited Professor of English at the North China University of Technology. Prison education projects have brought her to the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute Phoenix (formerly Graterford SCI) for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange, as well as to Angola Louisiana State Penitentiary and St. Gabriel’s Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. 

Lightweis-Goff’s teaching archive includes American literature from the colonial encounter to the present, urban studies, southern literary studies, and gender theory. As a scholar she is interested in the labor that sustains urban space, whether in the ‘captive’ cities of the antebellum south or the gentrified city of the southern present. Her scholarship includes Blood at the Root: Lynching as American Cultural Nucleus (SUNY Press, 2011), and essays published in American Literature, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, the minnesota review, south: a scholarly journal, and Southern Quarterly

Facing South: Cultivating a Toolkit for The Future of Transgender & Gender Nonconforming (TGNC) Southerners in Our Field

Seminar Leader:

Brody Parrish Craig, InTRANSitive and Twang [they/them/theirs] (

Statistically, the Southern region of the United States has both the largest transgender youth & adult populations when compared to the rest of the United States. So, where are TGNC narratives within southern literature? How can we adapt our practices to combat erasure and create meaningful change? As we face the current state of southern literature, media, & academic representation, we must ask ourselves: how can we individually & collectively cultivate a future that celebrates TGNC voices? From base knowledge to in-depth analysis of gatekeeping & counter-practices, this seminar will delve into what it means to support, celebrate, and incorporate TGNC livelihood within academic institutions, southern literature, and our broader communities. We encourage cisgender participants to attend. 


Brody Parrish Craig is a creator & founder of TWANG, a collective space & publication of TGNC (transgender & gender nonconforming) creatives from the South & Midwest US ( They are a poet, educator, & member of InTRANSitive’s Arkansas collective. BPC’s writing may be found in EOAGH, New South, & The Rupture, amongst others.

Among, Apart, Between: Multiethnic Souths

Seminar Leader:

Frank Cha, Virginia Commonwealth University (

Much has been said about the contemporary “global turn” in southern studies and its impact on the ways we think about race, ethnicity, region, and citizenship. While it has helped to increase the visibility of Latinx, Asian, Caribbean, and Native/Indigenous/First Nations populations, the stubborn persistence of a black-white racial paradigm coupled with the recent rise of white nationalism and xenophobia threaten to obscure and potentially erase their histories, cultures, and experiences. This seminar explores the future of this “global turn” and how multiethnic perspectives and approaches impact southern studies. Prior to the seminar, participants will circulate brief position papers (5 to 7 double-spaced pages) as well as a set of broader interpretive questions meant to foster discussion and develop potential collaborative projects. Possible topics include: connections to the larger Global South, contemporary immigration, and social justice activism within and among multiethnic communities. 


Frank Cha is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Focused Inquiry at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he teaches critical thinking, writing, and ethnic studies He is currently working with faculty and students to help develop an Asian and Pacific American Studies program at VCU. His current research focuses on 20th and 21st-century multiethnic narratives and grassroots activism in predominantly immigrant southern communities. His work has appeared in Mississippi Quarterly, Global South, and The Southern Quarterly.