MELUS 2020 Call for Papers

Join us for the 34th  Annual MELUS Conference in New Orleans

Conference Theme: “Awakenings and Reckonings: Multiethnic Literature and Effecting Change–Past, Present, and Future”

Dates: April 2-5, 2020

Keynote Speakers: Kiese Laymon and Monique Truong

Conference website

Hosted by the University of New Orleans

Conference Hotel: Le Meridien New Orleans

Deadline for Abstracts: November 1st, 2019

MELUS 2020 takes its theme’s inspiration from the 2016 novel In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, in which Christina Sharpe draws on the various meanings of “wake” to consider Black experience in the US. She invokes the watery wake that followed the slave ship, the ritual of the funeral wake, and a state of consciousness, wakefulness, or “wokeness” that signals awareness about new and enduring legacies of injustice.
New Orleans is an apt site for considering how multiethnic literatures have been in dynamic relation to various wakes. Ships, burials, mournings, and hauntings have long defined the experiences of and stories told by New Orleanians and those who have passed through the city. A port city that served as 19th-century America’s largest trading center of enslaved Africans and African Americans, New Orleans saw one of the most important and overlooked rebellions led by enslaved people in the U.S. The long wake of slavery created dramatic race and class disparities. The wake of the failure of the federal levee system, which caused the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina, continues to be visible 14 years later.
The conference theme also alludes to Kate Chopin’s classic New Orleans novel, The Awakening, which challenged gender and sexual norms of the late 19th century. Chopin is part of a robust genealogy of writers who have told–and continue to tell– stories of shifting consciousness, social change, and painful reckonings set in and around the South. As such, we aim to highlight and discuss how literature has responded to and effected change in the past, present, and in imagined and manifested futures. New Orleans been a key site for moments or processes of personal and collective awakenings. For many, Katrina was an important moment of awakening or renewed consciousness about the adaptation of past structures of exploitation and disposability for a new era.
New Orleans’ diverse communities also provide considerable opportunities for examining how immigrant groups and their literatures have effected and continue to effect change. The city’s port was the second largest point of entry for immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th century, among them German, Irish, Italian and Sicilian, and Haitian immigrants after the 1809 revolution. More recently, Vietnamese and Latin American immigrants have also helped to shape the city. Their voices join others in moments of awakenings and reckonings.
We welcome proposals for individual papers, panels, and roundtables, as well as creative writing and pedagogical discussions, on the broad spectrum of underground histories in multi-ethnic literature, culture, and performance including, but not limited to:
  • Representations of wakes, wakefulness, and awakenings;
  • Representations of reckoning with the past;
  • Shifts in consciousness;
  • Reckoning with the South’s Confederate Past;
  • Literature and public memory/monuments;
  • Representations of ports, shipping, and circulation;
  • Representations of funerals, wakes, and burials;
  • And any other topics related to multi-ethnic literature and change.
Submit a 200-word abstract, along with name, position, and affiliation, by November 1st, 2019, to
The MELUS 2020 conference website will be available later this summer. In the meantime, if you have questions about the conference, you may email Kim Martin Long at