SSSL 2024 Biennial Conference: "Reconstruction(s)"

The 2024 biennial conference of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature will be held for the first time ever in Gulfport, Mississippi, Sunday, June 23 – Wednesday, June 26, 2024.

A sign reading "Welcome Mississippi Gulf Coast" on the beach with the ocean in the background. The sign is flanked by three pelican statues, one of which is holding the "Welcome" banner.

Photo Credit: SSSL 

Conference Theme: "Reconstruction(s)"

The 2024 Society for the Study of Southern Literature (SSSL) Conference will convene in a hybrid format on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, marking the first time the state has played host to the biennial gathering. In “Theories of Time and Space,” Natasha Trethewey imagines a journey to the Coast that involves traversing “the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand // dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried terrain of the past.” Trethewey’s imagery implicitly calls for excavating various coastal formations over time: the vibrant culture of the Biloxi (Siouan for “first people”) that thrived until white settler colonialism took hold; the fight for freedom by the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard, the Union regiment of Black soldiers stationed at Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island during the Civil War; the Civil Rights-era Biloxi wade-ins staged by local protestors demanding equal access to public beaches; and the patterns of environmental degradation, social injustice, and uneven development laid bare by Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Katrina. From this perspective, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a fitting location to explore this year’s conference theme: “Reconstruction(s).”     

The conference theme conjures the historical period when the federal government sent military forces south to restore law and order in the former confederate states (1865-1877). It was a time of drastic political and social changes for the region as formerly enslaved African Americans were granted civil rights to become U.S. citizens. But the transition from slavery to freedom was short-lived in the region as it was “redeemed” to create a “New South” built on the grounds of the past (literal and metaphorical) and the outbreak of violence targeting African Americans marked the nadir by the late-nineteenth century. This tragic era of Reconstruction was devastingly so for indigenous populations as the federal government  created “civilizing” policies of forced assimilation and allotment policies to take control of tribal lands. What hung in the balance then—citizenship, voting rights, power of national versus state governments, and terrorism—remain so now.

To consider further why reconstruction matters, we only need to think of the challenges we face in our profession—given the social unrest over the past few years, political climate that threatens academic freedom, and a persistent lack of ethnic diversity in southern literary studies. To take a closer look at who we are and what we do as scholars in a field rich with textual diversity, as we continue opening up “southern” and “the South” to become more inclusive, we call for work that investigates various reconstruction(s) of/in southern literature and culture, broadly defined.

Announcing Jesmyn Ward as our Opening Plenary Speaker

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is home to Jesmyn Ward, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and two-time National Book Award-winner, and we are pleased to announce that she will be the featured speaker at the opening night plenary of The Society for the Study of Southern Literature 2024 Biennial Conference. This marque event will be held at the Courtyard by Marriot Gulfport Beachfront hotel on Sunday, June 23, 2024, at 6:30pm.

Jesmyn Ward looks at the camera against a white barn with shiplap siding

Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Ward will discuss her new novel, Let Us Descend (2023), and talk about her experiences growing up poor and Black in DeLisle, a small town along the Gulf Coast that continues to influence her writing. Ward’s collection of works also includes Where the Line Bleeds (2008), Salvage the Bones (2011), Men We Reaped: A Memoir (2013), The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race (2016), Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017), and Navigate Your Stars (2020). Ward’s talk will be livestreamed via the Whova app only for registered conference attendees. It will be followed by a book signing and reception to welcome attendees to the conference.

Conference Registration

  • Early Bird Registration Rate: $120 (by May 24)
  • Standard Registration Rate: $145 (after May 24)
  • Registration Rate for Graduate Students, Contingent Scholars, Retirees: $45

Membership is also required for all conference attendees.

Conference Program

The entrance to the Courtyard by Marriott Gulfport Beachfront hotel. Several palm trees frame the awning over the hotel's main entrance.

Photo Credit: Marriott 

Conference Hotel

Courtyard by Marriott Gulfport Beachfront
1600 East Beach Blvd., Gulfport, Mississippi, 39501
Phone: 228-864-4310

Conference rate expired on May 24.