When asked about the influences of immigrant fiction on her own writing, Jhumpa Lahiri told the New York Times, ‘I don’t know what to make of the term ‘immigrant fiction.’ […] If certain books are to be termed immigrant fiction, what do we call the rest? Native fiction? Puritan fiction? This distinction doesn’t agree with me.’ Lahiri’s dismissal of this supposed critical opposition between American and immigrant fiction—or rather, the descriptive emptiness of the latter term—was echoed soon thereafter in a New York Times review of Dinaw Mengestu’s novel All Our Names: ‘It would be a huge mistake—it would be an insult, in fact—to call him a novelist of ‘the immigrant experience’ or a chronicler of ‘life on the hyphen’ or any of the other shabby, summary clichés deployed to characterize (and too often diminish and even dismiss) authors whose birth certificates identify them as foreign-born.’ An earlier review called Mengestu’s Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears ‘a great African novel, a great Washington novel and a great American novel.’ These critical assessments—both from authors and critics—challenge the assumption that ‘immigrant fiction’ is a viable or productive category for literary analysis. They imply, moreover, that the thematic boundaries of immigrant literature, American literature, and world literature are, at best, exceedingly blurred.
This panel seeks papers that probe these very boundaries: Does immigrant fiction exist? When does immigrant fiction become simply American literature or world literature? How do literary critics and authors themselves grapple with these categories? How does the metropolitan reading public respond to these ‘immigrant’ narratives? Where is the line between the universal and the particular in this critical context? Papers may consider contemporary fiction including the works of Jhumpa Lahiri, Dinaw Mengestu, Teju Cole, Junot Diaz, or any other relevant ‘immigrant’ author.
Submit paper proposals online by September 30, 2014 at the following panel-specific link: https://nemla.org/convention/2015/cfp.html#cfp15194. You will need to log in to the NeMLA site and submit your abstract with the online submission form. For technical questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For other questions or concerns about the panel, contact the session chair at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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