NeMLA 2020 CFP: Afro-diasporic Futures Before Afrofuturism

Kate Perillo's picture
Call for Papers
September 30, 2019
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, Atlantic History / Studies, Black History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Literature

This panel is a part of the 2020 Northeast Modern Language Association conference (NeMLA), to be held in Boston, MA on March 5-8.

Submit 300-word abstracts and brief bio to by September 30, 2019.

Scholars have largely conceived of Afrofuturism as a contemporary phenomenon. Mark Dery coined the term in 1994 to describe “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture,” and while recent articulations of “Afrofuturism 2.0” extend these considerations beyond the US, they still tend to focus on twenty-first century artists. Yet as Reynaldo Anderson acknowledges, such artists are also “indebted to previous movements.” This session asks how the futures that black writers contemplated in earlier periods, across Afro-diasporic contexts, and in a range of genres can add new dimensions to our conversations about “Afrofuturism.”

This panel will consider the political and aesthetic investments of future speculations in Afro-diasporic writing from the nineteenth through early twentieth centuries—before the Civil Rights movement, before decolonization, perhaps before emancipation. In this way, the session adopts a broad interpretation of Kudwo Eshun’s assertion that “Afrofuturism studies the appeals that black artists, musicians, critics, and writers have made to the future, in moments where any future was made difficult for them to imagine.” Whereas fiction by US-American writers such as Martin Delany, Pauline Hopkins, and W.E.B. Du Bois has been included in histories of black speculative thought, I invite submissions on writing from both the US and beyond, including the Caribbean and Britain. I also invite papers on texts that might not be self-evidently “futuristic,” but which nonetheless experiment with historical and narrative time, thereby raising concerns about what the future can, should, or should not entail for Afro-diasporic peoples. Together, we will seek a more nuanced view of the imagined and/or foreclosed futures with which black writers have contended at various historical junctures, in both fictional and nonfictional modes. Since contemporary Afrofuturism often calls upon and reimagines Afro-diasporic histories even as it looks forward, this session enacts a complementary gesture, asking how visions of the future in earlier literatures might have continued resonance today, and how their recovery might inform our responses to the political exigencies of the present.

Papers on understudied texts, genres, and limit cases are especially welcome, as well as those that lend themselves well to comparison and/or facilitate conversation across periods & sub-fields.

Please do not submit abstracts via email; all submissions must come in through NeMLA's online portal ( by September 30.

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