Does literature today influence democracy or how readers think about democracy? Robert Asen, in "A Discourse Theory on Citizenship," suggests that "as a moral project, democracy calls for sustained engagement and amelioration. Democracy does not appear in a set of problems that can be solved conclusively. Striving for democracy constitutes a continuous process. Democracy signals an orientation toward action in various domains of human activity rather than a singularly delineated end" (198). The concept of democracy is vital to our country and to American identity. As we live in increasingly complex times, more and more Americans feel alienated from the political process. It's important to consider how the act of reading itself may be a powerful tool for sustaining democratic principles of dialogue, debate, process, and justice. Examining the ways in which contemporary writers play a role in provoking readers to consider important issues (i.e. the environment, the political process, social ills such as homelessness or AIDS, racism, and more) draws us to reader response theories, the value of literacy in a democratic country, and the belief that literature makes a difference.
There are many questions we can address when considering the connections between literature and democracy:
In what ways are contemporary American writers helping us create, debate, and sustain democracy?
How do contemporary American writers educate readers about the importance of dialogue and process?
What contemporary American writers are "expressing the truth of our times" and in what ways?
How do contemporary American writers enable readers to understand differences outside of themselves and outside of their local communities?
Does literature provide a space for sustained engagement with ideas and discourse?
Overall, how are contemporary American writers, to use Rosa Eberly's term, engaged in creating readers who are citizen critics—readers involved in producing "discourses about issues of common concern from an ethos of citizen first and foremost—not as expert or spokesperson for a workplace or as a member of a club or organization"? (Citizen Critic, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2000).
This panel seeks 500-word proposals that explore diverse ways in which contemporary American writers call upon readers to engage actively with the worlds around them and to see themselves as necessary participants in building and sustaining democracy. Please email proposals as Word document attachments, with the subject line NEMLA 2007 Literature, Readers, & Democracy to Jen Riley at email@example.com by 9/15/06.
Associate Professor, English
287 Old Westport Road
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508-999-8279 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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