Defining America - New Writing, New Voices, New Directions




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Sep 26, 2014
by Jonathan Elbaz
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Defining America - New Writing, New Voices, New Directions

This year's SSASA session will highlight the demographic and technological changes within writing and publishing industries The Max Reinhardt Library once housed the largest collection of American Studies literature in Europe

Ask American high school students to name examples of great American literature and they’ll likely respond with decades-old novels like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The nation’s literary canon is a solid rock, but what’s more unclear is where American writing is headed. 

This question will be examined deeply as Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) hosts its twelfth session from September 27 to October 1, entitled “Defining America: New Writing, New Voices, New Directions.” The program gathers 56 participants from 27 countries at Schloss Leopoldskron, home of Salzburg Global, and mixes many young PhD students with senior American Studies professors.

As the demographic character of the United States becomes more fluid, new literary voices are sparking a dialogue about “American” identity and writing. Meanwhile, as new technology creates challenges for the writing and publishing industry, we must reconsider the role of paper books, physical bookstores, and emerging online media as facilitators of literary expression.

During the session, participants will hear from two highly celebrated novelists, Susan Straight and Karen Tei Yamashita. Straight will speak about the “mixed-race novel” and its implications for a multicultural world, while Yamashita will speak on “Game Theory, Race and a Global Third World.”

SSASA Chair Marty Gecek directs each session and is responsible for selecting themes and inviting faculty and participants. She said one major purpose of this year's session is to give American Studies professors from outside the US the latest information so they can return home and spread the knowledge to their students.

“Most of the people in this discipline come to American Studies through literature,” Gecek said. “That’s why this program has been especially popular. I had to start a waiting list because people were just dying to come and meet at this particular session.”

Alongside Gecek, Ron Clifton, a former vice president of Stetson University, and Paul Lauter, the editor of the Heath Anthology of American Literature, will serve as co-chairs. Other faculty include Mita Banerjee, Christopher Bigsby, Mary Brady and Julia Kostova.

Salzburg Global has examined American Studies since the organization’s first ever program at the Schloss in 1947. Salzburg Global has organized more than 30 sessions that have explored American literature, foreign policy, history, cultural studies and popular culture.

Last year, SSASA hosted “Sustainability and the City: America and the Urban World,” focusing on the social, economic and political challenges cities face in becoming sustainable. Many SSASA faculty and participants are returning this year after attending previous sessions.

Follow discussions from Defining America: New Writing, New Voices, New Directions on Twitter on the hashtag #SSASA12 and on the session page: