Conference Report: College Language Association, 2016

This year’s 76th College Language Association convention was held in Houston, TX at the Hyatt Regency, April 6-9. Hosted by Texas Southern University, the University of Houston and Prairie View, the theme for this year, “Dialogues between Africa and African Diaspora in Languages, Literatures, and Films” brought hundreds to present papers and engage in discussions. CLA was founded in 1937 to provide faculty from HBCU’s with a professional outlet since they were excluded from MLA and other professional organizations. CLA also affords HBW the opportunity to convene its annual board meeting.

Board members Doretha Williams (George Washington University),
Howard Rambsy (Southern Illinois University), Amy Earhart (Texas A&M University),
Maryemma Graham (University of Kansas), and Daryl Dance (University of Richmond)

Chair Daryl Dance, Orrieann Florious (Howard University),
and Portia Owusu (University of London)

HBW hosted two New scholars panels this year, including “Reading and Writing the African/Diaspora: Africa and the Caribbean” featuring Portia Owusu and Orrieann Florious, and “What’s Race Got to Do with It? – Then and Now” with Matthew Broussard, Nathan Moore, and Jessica Wicks. The former panel addressed themes of silence in literary works, and the latter looked at representations of race in various genres such as comic books, children’s books, and film.

Jessica Wicks (Howard University), Matthew Broussard (University of Kansas),
 and Nathan Moore (SUNY Buffalo)

More than eighty concurrent panels and events over the three days indicate the vibrancy in the study of diaspora literatures and cultural expression. Highlights of the conference included a panel on “Margaret Walker’s Jubilee Revisited,” “Revolutionary Love: Black Women Resistance Writers,” “#FrederickDouglass: Using Technology to Advance African American Studies,” “Blackening the Books of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton in Africanist Tongues,” “The Physics of Blackness: Questioning ‘Blackness’ Here and Now,” and “Zora Neale Hurston, The Wizard of Oz, and Conjuring Cultural Practices.” The conference screened a number of films, including Furious Flower III: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry, and culminated on Saturday, April 9th with BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez.

John Edgar Tidwell (University of Kansas), Matthew Broussard,
and Portia Owusu

HBW tabled throughout the day, recruiting for KU’s annual Sneak Peek, HBW’s NEH funded Black Book Interactive Project, and spreading the word about our mission and projects.

Author Daniel Black (Clark Atlanta University)

The reception this year was held at TSU’s University Museum. Daniel Black, author of six novels, read from The Coming, which traces a family’s journey through the middle passage and the strength and resolve of the African spirit that arises after being stripped of everything.

At the annual banquet on Friday night, Maryemma Graham was awarded the CLA Lifetime Achievement Award. KU doctoral student and HBW staff member Kris Coffey was awarded the Margaret Walker Creative Writing Award for fiction.

Maryemma Graham and John Edgar Tidwell

Despite the perception of a field in decline, as the humanities struggles to reinvent itself, CLA is in growth mode. Its conferences are consistently diverse, with robust debate and social engagement with a purpose. Three sessions gave attention to the digital humanities, for example, which CLA is actively promoting among its member institutions. If one wants to know what is African American and Diaspora Literature, as the oldest organization in the field, CLA is definitely the place to go. Next stop – the University of Missouri, Columbia—MIZZOU in 2017.