SSSL 2024: 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. 

    In particular, SSSL’s 2024 biennial conference calls for investigations of the reconstruction(s) of a place, people, and literary tradition. How to integrate more fully diverse experiences into our collective identity? Reconstruct the canon? What narratives of belonging reveal about reconstructing the South and “southernness” in the context of turbulent times? We invite critical approaches that historicize and complicate what we think of as “southern literature” today with these topics in mind. The planning committee welcomes proposals for individual papers (300 words) as well as panels and roundtables (500 words). We also invite proposals for alternative formats: “lightning” talks; poster, art, or media displays; writing workshops; or other sessions (500 words). All proposals must include a 100-word biography for each participant. We are committed to developing an inclusive, equitable, and diverse program and urge panel organizers to bear that in mind when planning. 

    Please submit the required open CFP for participant-organized panels and roundtables to [email protected] as soon as possible but no later than January 26, 2024. All participant-proposed panels and roundtables must have an open call submitted for publication on the SSSL website and listserv. We also encourage panel organizers to post their CFPs in other venues. You may access the CFPs for those participant-proposed panels on the SSSL website.

    We welcome scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, especially those who may not identify as “southernists,” and we actively encourage the work of graduate, junior, contingent, and independent scholars, who can take advantage of SSSL’s robust Emerging Scholars Organization and travel grant programs.

    Please submit all individual proposals with participant bios to [email protected] by February 9, 2024.

    All approaches are welcome. We particularly encourage papers and panels that engage with the conference theme. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

    • Reconstructions of southern literature / southern literary studies (past, present, future; inclusivity and diversity; “Old” and “New” southern studies; questions of scope and scale)
    • Historical fictions / formations / events
    • Texts that portray Indigenous history / culture; acts of indigenous removals and resilient stances in southern literature
    • Depictions of migration and immigration / emigration (regional, national, transnational, diasporic)
    • Representations of disaster and recovery (“natural,” economic)
    • Gothic souths (Southern Gothic, New Black Gothic, Undead Souths)
    • Texts that depict LGBTQIA+ identity formation/activism/history/experience 
    • (Post)apocalyptic souths 
    • Texts that depict/engage with mass incarceration; police brutality and violence; and inequities in the justice system
    • Texts that depict/engage with social justice (organization, activism, Black Lives Matter)  
    • Depictions of climate change, environmental degradation and destruction, and forms of sustainability, survivability, and recovery 
    • Archival (re)construction and recovery (traditional or alternative; addressing / redressing omissions and erasures in historical / cultural / public memory)
    • Pedagogy and curriculum / program development (best practices, online / hybrid delivery, southern studies programs, prison education programs, etc.)
    • Representations of modernization and (uneven) development 


    About the SSSL 2024 Biennial Conference

    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.

    We are committed to hosting an ethical, accessible, and sustainable conference and welcome your feedback on ways that we can continue improving and expanding our Conference Vision.

    Please feel free to email the conference planners directly with questions or feedback: [email protected].


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