Border Crossings: Translation, Migration, & Gender in the Americas, the Transatlantic, & the Transpacific
Society for the Study of American Women Writers & Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Dates: 5th – 8th July 2017
Venue: Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France
Conference director: Stéphanie Durrans
Conference website: https://ssaww2017.sciencesconf.org/
To maintain a continuity with our previous conference (in Philadelphia, November 2015) on liminality and hybrid lives, we would like this first SSAWW conference in Europe to address the significance of “border crossing[s]” in the lives and works of American women writers. Such experiences have always been important to American women. Early diaries and travel notes left by 17th– and 18th-century women provide us with valuable records of and about their migratory experience to the New World and their lives and experiences in America. Besides offering more records of such experiences, the 19th century also witnessed an explosion in travel writing, fiction, and poetry treating with travel, as growing numbers of American women writers could afford to travel across Europe and more widely. Throughout the 20th century, more American women writers found in foreign lands a source of inspiration and creativity (e.g. Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Kay Boyle, and Djuna Barnes in France, Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil, Katherine Anne Porter in Mexico) and some of them even made the choice to write from abroad. Meanwhile, women writers originating from other countries drew on their first-hand experience of migration, border-crossing, and uprooting to add to the growing canon of American literature (e.g. Jumpa Lahiri, Bharati Mukherjee, Shirley Geok-lin Lim). No study of border-crossing can afford to neglect the rich mine of writing contributed by Chicana writers throughout the 20thcentury. As pointed out by Carmen Tafolla, “[Chicanos] did not cross the border; the border crossed [them].” This was also true of many other women, moving into or across America. From such a perspective, crossing borders lends itself to the most radical strategies of subversion and defamiliarization. Last but not least, such writers as Toni Morrison explored the darker side of border-crossing by seeking to express and represent the trauma of the Middle Passage for whole generations of Africans, and the multiple dilemmas facing African American women down the decades.
The conference theme invites participants to explore the broad spectrum of possibilities generated by such cross-cultural interactions, as well as the challenge consequently posed to literary canons. How has this experience affected women writers’ worldview and conception of language? To what extent do their modes of exploration differ from that of their male counterparts? How important were such contacts in allowing women writers to develop a consciousness of otherness and/or forge a community of feeling and experience transcending national and/or cultural barriers? “Chroniclers bind the inner and outward history of isolated humanity, but travellers connect all humanity together,” stated Grace King in one of the first entries to her diary. More often than not, indeed, geographical borders assume an ontological dimension, and crossing them amounts to an exploration of the self as much as to a confrontation with otherness. Crossings have always involved a necessary stage of transition, transformation, and consequent redefinition of the self that questions the very stability and permanence traditionally associated with women’s conventionalized roles. Thus we are very happy to consider writers using the idea of border crossing and travel symbolically or metaphorically as well as literally: early female travellers, explorers, and adventurers crossed borders in more ways than one, often by transgressing gender expectations, using this experience or awareness to reshape the conventions of many genres. One might also approach the topic by focusing on what happens when literary works cross national borders to reach foreign readers in translation. In this respect, translation studies and studies of American women writers’ reception abroad constitute another potentially fruitful arena.