“But Fighting Back!”: Images of Resistance and Revolutionary Change in African-American Literature across the Ages (SAMLA 2022)

Christopher Varlack Discussion
Call for Papers
July 1, 2022
Florida, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, Black History / Studies, Ethnic History / Studies, Human Rights, Literature

“But Fighting Back!”: Images of Resistance and Revolutionary Change in African-American Literature across the Ages
November 11-13, 2022 | Jacksonville, FL

In his landmark poem, “If We Must Die,” published in The Liberator magazine, Jamaican- born poet Claude McKay addresses the growing anti-Black violence of the Red Summer of 1919, using his poetic voice to increase awareness of racist aggression across the United States and to encourage his readers to fight back against “the murderous, cowardly pack.” The poem, just one of many protest poems composed in the twentieth century, became a rallying cry for social and political change at a time characterized in part by the steady resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the continued spread of a dangerous Jim Crow ideology. Refusing to die “like hogs / Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,” McKay spread an important message about not capitulating to the bigoted demands of white supremacy and about the need to cultivate a mindset of Black communal self-defense in order to protect Black lives but also Black physical and psychosocial sites and access to the “American Dream,” all of which were consistently threatened by racial terrorism of the time. This platform of the man who became known to some as l’enfant terrible was shared by other revolutionaries of the Harlem Renaissance and beyond—figures who used the power of literary expression to call out and condemn, to strategize and revolutionize, and to envision possibilities for a new American vision, one no longer dependent upon the traditions of violence against and disenfranchisement of Blacks. 

Recognizing the value of this work and that of McKay’s contemporaries (including figures such as Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, and so many others), the Langston Hughes Society invites proposals for its annual panel at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) conference on the vital topic of images of resistance and revolutionary change in African-American literature. In our mission to increase awareness and appreciation of the work and legacy of Langston Hughes, we are attuned to his sociopolitical philosophy much aligned with this panel theme. For instance, as Hughes declares in his essay, “My Adventures as a Social Poet,” “The moon belongs to everyone, but not this American earth of ours” (205)--a statement that reflects Hughes’ concerns about the mounting inequities of U.S. life but also his awareness that progressive action, whether through poetry or protest, would be necessary to bring about true freedom for those now faced with a different kind of chains. How, then, did authors across time use their literary works to envision resistance and revolution in both big and small ways?

For us, this panel is incredibly timely. National conversations on antiracism, coupled with the rise in anti-CRT legislation that if passed would ban the teaching of texts this panel aims to highlight, cause us to revisit literature of the not-so-distant past for the important lessons it has left behind. Therefore, we are particularly excited to receive proposals for presentations that draw connections between the authors of the Harlem Renaissance and revolutionary writers of the present as we work to trace the heritage of resistance in Black-authored texts. Papers with a focus on Hughes are especially welcomed, though not required. Proposals for this panel should be approximately 250 to 350 words in length and should be submitted, with a brief biographical statement, in a Microsoft Word file to Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack, President of the Langston Hughes Society, at lhsociety.president@gmail.com no later than July 1, 2022. The selected participants will be required to hold membership with the Langston Hughes Society as well as the South Atlantic Modern Language Association in order to present.  

For more information on the Langston Hughes Society and our mission, please visit us online at www.langstonhughessociety.org