Reflections from MELUS Conference 2013: Encountering My Double

One of the strangest things that happened while I was at MELUS was that I ran into another graduate student, D., currently a student at the University of ______ (for his anonymity and a bit of mine, I leave the names blank here). Meeting another grad student shouldn’t be strange at all, but we got to talking and it turned out—once he heard that I was a student in the English Department at UC Davis—that not only had he almost gone there but he also would have entered the same year I did. Or should I say, he would have entered and I would not have. I was on the waitlist and was admitted at the last minute. And he told me that he had had a really tough time deciding between UC Davis and the University of ______, where he eventually decided to go. He had drawn up charts, waiting until the very last minute, deferring calls and emails from people who wanted a decision, and wanted him to come to their school. Continue reading Reflections from MELUS Conference 2013: Encountering My Double

Reflections from MELUS Conference 2013: What Was/Is/Will Be Chican@ Literature?

Panel 32: “Chicano/a Historical Consciousness, Arts Movement, and Literature,”

One panelist, Elizabeth Cummins Munoz, spoke about novelist and critic Emma Perez’s Forgetting the Alamo, Or, Blood Memory Flesh (2009) and another, George English Brooks, talked about the significance of material objects in three Chicano texts: cockroaches in Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Revolt of the Cockroach People (1973), bricks in Alejandro Morales’s Brick People (1988), and Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (2005).

But for me the most fascinating presentation was by Alma Ros Alvarez from Southern Oregon University, titled, “Institutional, Demographic and National Challenges to a Sustained and Vibrant Chicana/o Literary Arts Movement.” Rather than the traditional academic presentation, in which the presenter simply reads, Alvarez gave a short Powerpoint presentation about the way that Chican@ literature—rather than simply Chican@ studies—is currently being taught, offering some preliminary observations about why and how the field might adjust or adapt. She conducted a survey with instructors of Chican@ in the West and Southwest, asking about teaching loads, curricular choices (texts), rationales and feelings about classes and texts, as well as observations about students. Institutionally, the primary concern was with the frequency of classes being taught—most instructors were teaching one course every year or every two years. Demographically, Alvarez investigated whether classes were made of up majority Chican@ or majority white students (or, infrequently, other students of color). How did the makeup of classes determine the curricular choices? What do students expect? What do they respond to? Finally, Alvarez looked at the way that nationalist tendencies or issue shaped the field. How is the category of Chican@ holding up in the current moment, one in which there are many recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America? In which the Aztlan-inspired nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s is perhaps overshadowed by the Mexican-flag-America-flag bi-nationalism evidenced in the May 1st demonstrations several years ago. In terms of the literature, Alvarez found that historical and cultural content was equal in importance to literary value—and thus there tends to be a focus on reproducing certain themes of Chican@ identity and life. Continue reading Reflections from MELUS Conference 2013: What Was/Is/Will Be Chican@ Literature?

@ MELUS Conference 2013, Pittsburgh, PA

Coming back from the MELUS (Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States) Conference in Pittsburgh, where I presented on a panel titled, “Irish American, Italian American, Jewish American, and Mennonite Literary Traditions and Narrative Voices.”

The abstract of my paper:

“Singing the Black Aesthetic Blues: Bernard Malamud’s The Tenants”

Recent attention to Kenneth Warren’s use of the past tense in the question “What Was African American Literature?” has come not because the question is entirely new but because of the historical moment in which it has appeared. Reconsiderations of Jim Crow and Black Power literary history and aesthetics are inextricably linked to contemporary concerns with the direction of ethnic literatures and ethnic studies in a post-nationalist period marked by “comparative race studies” and the “post-racial.” In this paper, I take up a variation of Warren’s question in the context of the Black Arts Movement and Bernard Malamud’s The Tenants (1971): what makes a “black text” black? And what is at stake in such a definition, not only within its historical context but for our contemporary moment as well. At the height of the Black Arts Movement, white Jewish author Malamud’s The Tenants attempts to represent the debate about the relationship between literature and race but also “black” writing itself. Thus, integrated into the novel are passages of Malamud’s ventriloquizing of Black Arts literature. Malamud is no Amiri Baraka, but he takes his charge and the question seriously, and thus presents the reader with an interesting challenge during a moment in which the parameters of “authentic” black literature were debated often and contentiously. I take up racial representation, appropriation, and self-expression in The Tenants in order to historicize the development of ethnic literatures and to continue to expand the discussion of how to approach texts that present problems of categorization.