Deadline for submissions: January 22, 2017
Full name / name of organization: Jeff Birkenstein & Robert Hauhart/Saint Martin’s University
Contact email:
CFP: Social Justice & American Literature

We seek essays of 5,000 to 6,000 words for an anthology that explores American literature through the lens of social justice. The volume will become a part of a popular literary series published by a major press.

We understand the term “social justice” to refer typically to the advancement of human rights—whether social, racial/cultural, economic, political, or many others besides—and are seeking essays that examine these advancements, or the lack thereof, through American literature. Many American writers have pursued themes of personal and community liberation from oppressive cultural forces. We seek criticism of important writers who have written movingly of their attempts to escape persecution by myriad forces, such as religious indoctrination from family and community; the pervasive, quasi-official heteronormativity supported by standard American culture; the solid, Midwestern American mantras of progress and optimism; or, the lamentable ignorance bred of poverty and isolation. Any American writings, and the authors who penned them, that embrace these or similar themes are well within the range of our interest.

“We, the people,” have long been told that, as John Winthrop put it before the country even existed in his 1630 sermon, “A Modell of Christian Charity”, the United States of America is as a “Shining City Upon a Hill”. While this colonialist perspective completely ignores the original inhabitants of this North American landmass, this idea nevertheless pervades both America’s history and present. Sometimes, even, this idea has been used to uplift peoples and make true social justice progress. Yet, this idea has just as often been used in the name of fear and provincialism and bigotry in order to squash progress, enslave peoples, and hinder all manner of advancement. This bipolar American personality, if you will, this bifurcated tension, has long been at the intersection of great American writing and attempts at social justice progress across a range of issues.

The United States has long been both a refuge for people and writers from many countries and, as a country, a strife-torn nation which has subjugated and oppressed many of its own residents. Thus, in our view, the phrase “social justice” involves not just American-born writers, but also those who have come to this country seeking a better life. Writers could include Harper Lee, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Cormac McCarthy, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Walt Whitman, Zora Neale Hurston, Carson McCullers, J.D. Salinger, Upton Sinclair, Nathanael West, John Hersey, John Updike, Philip Roth, Amy Tam, Sandra Cisneros, Nella Larsen, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Bukowski, Octavia E. Butler, Tomás Rivera, Pat Conroy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Hardwick, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Tony Kushner, Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, Wendy Wasserstein, Anna Deavere Smith, Sylvia Plath, Louise Erdrich, Maya Angelou, Adrienne Rich, Julia Alvarez, Esmeralda Santiago, Luis Alberto Urrea, Rigoberto González, Rudolfo Anaya, Justin Torres, Jhumpa Lahiri, Maxine Hong Kingston, Porochista Khakpour, Chang-rae Lee, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Khaled Hosseini, Vu Tran, Bharati Mukherjee, Ta-Nehisi Coates, W.E.B. DuBois, Alex Haley, Saul Bellow, Gertrude Stein, Art Spiegelman, Tillie Olsen, Judy Blume, and many, many, many others. Of course, this is necessarily a partial list and we urge you to consider other relevant, well-known American writers who have made their voices known through their writing of social justice.

In line with the expectations of the Critical Insights (Salem Press) series, we seek essays that:

Provide undergraduate and advanced high school students with a comprehensive introduction to works and aspects of American writers whose work and/or lives explored social justice and that they are likely to encounter, discuss, and study in their classrooms;

Help students build a foundation for studying the works and aspects in greater depth by introducing them to key concepts, contexts, critical approaches, and critical vocabulary found in the scholarship relating to social justice and American literature.

This collection will attempt to cover a variety of American cultures and historical periods and envisions understanding the intersection of our contemporary world and various social justice-minded writers in new cultural, historical, spatial, and epistemological frameworks. How does literary production in an increasingly globalized world—when seen through the lens of the search for social justice—serve this search? How does exile push a writer to look outward to new social justice space(s)? How does (do) your chosen text(s) construct meaning at/in/against the context of a globalized, dehumanizing, suffocating, and endless movement of goods and services and ideas across significant regional and international boundaries, often with the goal of silencing local voices and cultures? These and other questions are important to investigate about American social justice writers and, taken in sum, we intend to have an academically rigorous, interesting, and cohesive volume on the topic.

The volumes follow a uniform format, including four original introductory essays as follows:

*a “critical lens” chapter (5,000 words; offers a close reading of the topic embodying a particular critical standpoint)

*a “cultural and historical context” chapter (5,000 words; addresses how the subject at hand influences the theme(s) of social justice across different time periods and American cultures, as well as what continues to make the concept relevant to a contemporary audience)

*a “compare/contrast” chapter (5,000 words; analyzes the topic of social justice with regard to two or three different works, or authors, with some reference to the similarities and differences of their experiences.)

*a “critical reception” chapter (5,000 words; surveys major pieces of comment or criticism on social justice and the major concerns, or aspects, that commentators on the topic have attended to over the years)

The book will also include ten or eleven additional chapters that analyze the themes that pervade the experience of American literature and social justice and focus specific attention on some of the best works and/or authors in the “genre.” Each essay will be about 5,000 words. Together, these chapters will offer readers a comprehensive introduction to the essential themes that arise from the lives and works of those writers who sought, or are yet seeking, increased social justice as they reflect major critical approaches to the topic.

Writers are expected to:

Center their essays on works, topics, and critical approaches that are commonly studied, or perhaps should be, at the advanced high school and undergraduate levels and are representative of foundational and mainstream critical discourse about social justice in the United States. Topics and critical approaches should be neither dated, nor so cutting edge as to risk becoming dated in 5 to 10 years.

For the introductory critical reception and cultural/historical context essays, writers should not devote their essays to selective critical approaches or contexts. Rather, the introductory critical reception essay should offer readers a comprehensive overview of the body of criticism or comment on American social justice, and the introductory cultural/historical context should consider a variety of contexts in which the topic is commonly situated. If you wish your proposal to fulfill one of these overarching thematic goals, please say so in your communication to us.

Abstracts of around 500 words & CV by January 22, 2017 to:

Jeff Birkenstein, Ph.D. Robert Hauhart, J.D., Ph.D.

Department of English Department of Society & Social Justice

Saint Martin’s University

5000 Abbey Way SE

Lacey, WA 98503

To the extent that you are already working on author(s) that would be relevant to this volume, and have an interest in our CFP, please contact us to discuss the possibilities. The co-editors have extensive editorial experience, including successful preparation of a companion text, Critical Insights: American Writers in Exile (see

Completed first drafts of around 5,000 words by April 30, 2017.