By Bryan Giemza, Randolph-Macon College
The South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) convened in Atlanta, Georgia from November 8-10, where the ASLE-sponsored session met to discuss “Southern Wilds and Unnatural Disasters.” The ASLE panel convened to investigate how the literary representation of disaster exposes the eco-cultural history of environmental catastrophe. In keeping with the “networked worlds” theme of this year’s conference, as well as the regional and global focus of SAMLA, the papers gave consideration to bioregionalism, the US south and global south.
Bryan Giemza (Randolph-Macon College) chaired and presented on “Lost Worlds: Cormac McCarthy and the TVA,” documenting through archival sources the important influence of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s influence on McCarthy’s family life and fiction. Rebecca Godwin (Barton College) gave a memorable paper titled, “‘The hill looked bare as a half-plucked chicken’: Appalachian Wastelands in Robert Morgan and Ron Rash,” in which she demonstrated how the flood motif and economic exploitation are tied to environmental concerns in the work of two writers who hail from the southern Appalachians. Joye Palmer (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) presented on “Magical Realism: The Cohesive for Culture on the Periphery,” and made a richly- illustrated case for considering the film Beasts of the Southern Wild through the lens of magical realism in order to fully appreciate its environmental dimensions. Taken together, the papers all spoke to the economic colonization of the region in one form or another, and a lively discussion followed a well-attended session.
In addition to the ASLE panel, two sessions were devoted to “Violent Ecology: Representations of Violence and the Environment in 20th and 21st Century America.” Writers under discussion included Eggers, Silko, Butler, and McCarthy.
Next year’s SAMLA conference might be of special interest to ASLE members, as the focus of the conference will be “Sustainability and the Humanities.” It’s a spacious tent, and all are invited!