Organization: American Comparative Literature Association
When Jia Tolentino claimed that Donald Trump’s inauguration ended the online boom of personal essays written by female writers (New Yorker), Soraya Roberts retorted, “the personal essay isn’t dead, it’s just no longer white” (The Walrus). While Tolentino and Roberts questioned the essay’s digitality, its “whiteness” and rejection of patriarchal structures, others are gesturing towards a polemics and poetics of the contemporary essay. What characterises the essay today, what are its aesthetics and political commitments, and does the internet create a new sense of a democratised essay? Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton’s Shapes of Native Nonfiction (2020) provides decolonial and reparative ways of thinking about how the essay relates to Indigenous culture, such as the tradition of basket weaving. Cheryl Wall similarly works with the contemporary African American essay, its relationship to “the canon” and its anti-authoritarian forms such as the essay blog.
These experimentations within the essay form evoke questions about style, sub-genres, and publishing models, as well as the suggestion that the internet is “democratising” the essay genre. Transcending orthodox readings of the essay’s formal evasiveness, this seminar calls for papers addressing the twenty-first-century essay and its institutions.
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