In Tuesday’s post, I took the time to expand upon some thoughts, ideas, and advice for scholars and students attending academic conferences. The anecdotes I shared arose out of my experiences at this years College Language Association (CLA) convention in Chicago. Today, I want to take a moment and reflect upon some of the amazing papers that I had the opportunity to hear at the conference. Unfortunately, as with most conferences, I was not able to go to every panel that I wanted to attend due to scheduling conflicts; however, I was still able to speak with some of those presenters outside of their panels about their topics.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about CLA this year was the opportunity to participate in the CLAJ Publication Lab, a special session where I submitted a paper, a scholar read it, and then we spoke about the paper during the time assigned in the program. I submitted a paper I have been working on for a while, one that I have submitted to three journals already. At this stage, it is in the revise and resubmit stage, and I need to get it completed.

Working with my scholar, we walked through my essay on reading  Iceberg Slim’s Mama Black Widow in relation to the migration narrative and in relation to James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain. I reread the essay before the meeting and realized, pretty quickly, that it is a hot mess. I have gotten to the stage where I just want to give up on the piece and publish it here on the blog; however, after the consultation, I’ve decided to rework it some, taking out Baldwin’s text and focusing solely on Mama Black Widow. I think that this will create a better paper overall.

After my article workshop, it was time for the Langston Hughes Society Luncheon. There, the keynote speaker was Nikky Finney, and her speech, on the importance of black periodicals such as Negro Digest, Ebony, Black Scholar, and others in highlighting Black achievement and pointing towards the mountaintop was amazing. Finney spoke about how when she lived in California her mother would mail her, on a regular basis, large packages stuffed with clippings from the aforementioned periodicals. Langston Hughes asked what the future, based on the books we leave behind, would think about us, specifically in regard to Black Americans. This is where the periodicals come in. The whole time, as well, I could not help but think about the fore bearers of these publications in the forms of the Freedom’s Journal and the North Star.

Following the luncheon, I attended a panel on James Baldwin where I heard ShaDawn Battle present “Singing ‘Blues’ for Black Bodies: Epistemic Violence and Black Male Killings Examined in James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie and the Michael Brown Murder Case.” Battle talked about how the witnesses in Baldwin’s play and Darren Wilson in Brown’s case both displayed their knowledge, constructed from ignorance, when describing the incidents that led to the murders of Richard Henry in Baldwin’s play and Brown in Ferguson, MO. In each instance, one fictive and one real, the “Black male body in the realm of non-alterity exists as a phantom surrounding the trials.” I have been thinking, over the last few weeks, about ways to approach these issues while I teach in Norway next year, and I think that Battle’s use of Baldwin and Brown’s case serve as an entry point for my future students as we explore these issues through the literature of authors such as Baldwin, William Melvin Kelley, T. Geronimo Johnson, and more.

My panel was next, and there, I heard an amazing paper by Aisha Lockridge entitled “Suppressing the Erotic Then and Now: Examining Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman and Jordan Peele’s Get Out.” Lockridge focused on Get Out, and specifically on the role of Georgina, the Black maid who has the mind of the Armitage matriarch in her body. Lockridge’s paper really made me think about the continued trope of interracial relationships and the stigmas that surround them in literature. As well, she brought up the fact that Chris ignores, thus delegitimizing, Georgina’s apparent warnings to him about the Armitage’s plans. This was an interesting thought, especially considering how much trust Chris places in Missy and Rose, the two white women in the film. I need to go back through and look at other texts to see if this carries over in works centered on interracial relationships.

The next day, I went to a panel on satire where I heard Terrence Tucker speak on a novel that I need to read, Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and The Friends, a novel that addresses the Black afrostocracy during he antebellum period in Philadelphia. The panel also included Darryl Dickson-Carr who spoke on “The Crisis of the Black Iconoclast: African-American Satire and Irony in the 21st Century” where he talked about Paul Beattey’s The Sellout and White Boy Shuffle.  Later, I heard Keith Byerman speak on Ernest Gaines’ “Three Men.” Byerman brought new understanding to this story, focusing on the ways that Gaines subverts stereotypical masculinity through his depiction of Procter Lewis.

Right before I departed for the airport on Saturday, I caught one more panel. There, I heard Guy Mark Foster’s “‘Dressed to Thrill’ Contemporary Transgender Discourse in Richard Wright’s ‘Man of All Work.'” The story appears in Wright’s collection Eight Men, and I have to say that I yet to read it. Foster’s paper made me think about my own paper on Iceberg Slim’s Mama Black Widow, especially the idea of failed masculinity and failed manhood. This is an issue that I explore in my piece where Otis’ father loses his position as the head of the household when the Tilson family migrates from the South to the North in the early part of the twentieth century.

The final paper I heard was Keith Clark’s “The Wages of Civil Rights: Ernest Gaines’s In My Father’s House and the Problem of Black Male Heroes.” I am glad that Clark chose to present on this underappreciated novel, and his insights have led me to think about other aspects on the text. Clark brought up that two issues appear when thinking about the central character Philip Martin: the problem with imbuing a figure with so much weight and Philip’s tragic flaw encapsulates American historical infliction and condemnation of American project. These are items I need to consider when rereading In My Father’s House.

I did not talk about all of the panels I went to in this post. Honestly, conferences are such a blur to me sometimes. As I said in the last post, I don’t recall a whole lot from the papers, but I do recall the connections I make with items I have been thinking about. I hope this provides some idea about the plethora of great work being done at CLA. If you’re looking for a conference to attend, make sure you look for the CFP in the fall.

What conferences have been most memorable for you? As usual, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.


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