MLA 2024 CFPs

Rethinking Woolf and Race

To examine the history of Woolf Studies through the lens of race can prove vexing because while there are several stellar examinations of Woolf, race, and colonialism, many contemporary feminist modernist scholars would suggest that we have the opportunity to do more. In fact, it is imperative that modernist and feminist scholars examine white British writers–especially those with secure positions in and around the canon–in relation to early 20th-century constructions of race. What can we learn about the politics of marginalization, vis-à-vis racism and colonialism, from those who resided in positions of political and cultural privilege? And, in a more reflective vein, what can we ascertain about the role played by literary scholarship in buttressing or challenging dominant constructions of race and racialized identity categories? Woolf’s expansive oeuvre and the vast archive of Woolf scholarship offers a particularly rich place to situate this timely endeavor.

Here I take my cue from Kabe Wilson, the multimedia artist whose literary art piece, Of One Woman Or So, compels scholars to recalibrate their approach to Woolf by playfully yet purposefully decentering the construction of white, British womanhood that anchors A Room Of One’s Own. Or, even more recently, Sonita Sarker’s book, Women Writing Race, Nation, and History: N/native (2022), situates Woolf among a diverse constellation of global women writers, each of whom negotiates the pressures of identity, belonging, and gendered expectations within the constraints of nation and race in the early 20th century. Although these two examples are very different in form and content, both encourage scholars to imagine Woolf and her work within frameworks that prioritize the racialized colonial context of her historical milieu as well as the ongoing racial reckoning of our own contemporary moment. Moreover, reading Woolf through race-forward frameworks not only promises to enrich Woolf Studies but also guarantees to complement and contribute to similar scholarly repositionings within modernist studies.

This panel seeks to highlight scholarship engaged in finding new affordances in Woolf’s work and life through:

  • Intersectional approaches
  • Critical race studies
  • Black studies
  • Decolonial theorizations
  • Constellations with non-white and/or contemporary writers
  • Political systems and frameworks
  • Race and sexuality studies

Additionally, critical reflections on the history of Woolf Studies are encouraged. What can we learn from our scholarly archives about the way racial and colonial politics were negotiated within the modernist scholarship of the late 20th and early 21st century? How can critical scholarly self-reflection encourage us to discover new intellectual and political affordances in Woolf’s writing?

2023 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900

Panel Selection Committee
Beth Rigel Daugherty
Jeanne Dubino
Vara Neverow

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