Call For Papers – NeMLA 2019 Conference

The Diary as Literature Through the Lens of Multiculturalism in America

By Angela Hooks, PhD (St. John’s University)

Seeking abstracts for a roundtable discussion at the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) to be held March 21 -24, 2019 in Washington DC

The deadline for abstract proposals is September 30, 2018.

A diary is a serious thing; not to be undertaken lightly or to be spoken of in anything but a whisper. If kept in the right spirit, it means a record of things both seen and unseen, all recorded in strictly conscientious fashion? It means, too, that one must crystallize one’s secret thoughts and longings and desires into written words, thereby giving speech to hitherto inarticulate [sic] voices.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson, “Confessions of a Lazy Woman”

This roundtable focuses on diary writing as a quasi-literary genre that includes autobiography, biography, memoir, correspondence, travel literature, and more. We will examine the diarist’s text because it speaks the truth of the appearance of things. The diarist’s account is imaginative writing, social and political history. Diary writing includes events that add up to a story with meaning, a theme, and style. Diary writing is creating “real” fictions of one’s self. For the diarist, the diary becomes a transnational space in which an intersection of cultures, languages, and peoples help the diarist understand self and the world they live in.

Joan Didion says in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” that writing in a notebook gets us “closer to the truth” about “how it felt to me” and to remember what it was to be.”

Through the lens of the diary, this roundtable will discuss how diarists, writers, and poets reflect on multiculturalism and intercultural relations. Subjects and themes include identity, language, race, class, culture, gender, religion, sexuality, and nationality of American minorities who use the diary to help them find their own expressive language, explore their identity, and understand themselves, their intimate relationships, and the world around them. Since the diary is an autobiographical text the roundtable includes the study of autobiography, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

For bell hooks, “autobiographical writing was a way for her to evoke the particular experience of growing up southern and black in segre­gated communities. It was a way to recapture the richness of southern black culture. The need to remember and hold to the legacy of that experience …”

Topics include:

  • Socioeconomic and political matters in which the diarist lives in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation?
  • Diaries that give voice to the identity of the diarist or illustrate a hidden identity.
  • The diary as a confessional through the lens of Foucault: confessions turn both on what can be openly spoken about and what is forbidden to name.
  • Diary writing that reflects the shadow self; the women’s voice is unique, different from another woman’s voice and does not conform to the images society creates for them; “a necessary stage in the psychic journey leading to recovery and the restoration of well-being.”
  • Cultural authenticity in fictional diaries such as Maya’s Notebook, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and The Golden Notebook
  • The role of the diary as autobiography, a writer’s workshop, a companion, and as a creative space
  • Reading other people’s diaries that have passed from “hand to hand, generation to generation” because the content and purpose are based on terrible urgency or fragments of a life.
  • Silence in the diary that causes a discrepancy between diary entries and the diarist’s actual life, and when the diarist is incapable of giving a complete picture of what she has gone through.
  • The pages of diaries, journals, and notebooks that illustrate the strength, the resilience, and the resourcefulness of the American black male and female voices including their struggles and their constraints, and their victories and their joys.
  • What is private and what is public when it comes to publishing a found diary?
  • The legacy of diary keeping in families.

Please submit a 300-word abstract by Sept. 30, 2018

To submit, open a username account (free) and upload your abstract via the NeMLA portal here:

Contact info:


About Steve Mentz 1265 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and the blue humanities at St. John's in New York City.

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