• Testimonials

    WLA faculty are committed to graduate student mentorship and are eager to support student scholarship by offering valuable feedback and creating spaces for exchange and collaboration.
    Ho'esta Mo'e'hahne, 2018
    Scholar in Residence, Indigenous Nations Studies, Portland State University

WLA Conference 2021

56th WLA Conference
Santa Fe, NM, Oct 20-23, 2021

Palimpsests and Western Literatures:
The Layered Spaces of History, Imagination, and the Future

hosted by Professors Audrey Goodman and Lisa Tatonetti

Craig Dan Goseyun (San Carlos Apache), Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer (Courtesy Tourism Santa Fe)

Craig Dan Goseyun (San Carlos Apache), Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer (Courtesy Tourism Santa Fe)

A palimpsest is a material, be it birchbark or slate or parchment, upon which something is written, and then expunged or blotted out, only to be written upon again. It is a thing made of layers of inscription, a thing made of strata of expression, a thing made of traces that may not be visible but can never be fully erased or repressed.

Santa Fe, the location of WLA in 2021, is a place made of palimpsests at once beautiful and disturbing. It is the oldest capital in the United States; its name declares the arrival of Catholicism and colonialism in the New World.  At the center of the Santa Fe Plaza, on Pueblo and Jicarilla Apache land, stands a nineteenth-century settler monument, a graying marble slab that reads:

To the heroes
who have fallen in the various battles with XXXX
Indians in the territory
Of New Mexico

The missing word in the inscription, which originally read “savage,” has long been chiseled out. The carved-out indentation, layered upon that elided slur, speaks volumes. In recent years, the word “courageous” has been written atop that same loud space. This palimpsest speaks to the ways that settler colonialism tries to erase both the presence of Indigenous peoples and its own histories of violence, and to the impossibility of that task. WLA 2021 takes such layered spaces of history, of imagination, of present, and of the future as its call.

We ask, then, for participants to look at the layers, collisions, omissions, and the expressive possibilities of the palimpsest. From Indigenous-Indigenous encounters, to settler incursions, to Mexican, Spanish, and broader Latinx landscapes–what is the palimpsest in Western literatures writ large? Is it the double exposure of a photograph? The bi- or tri-lingual text of a public mural? Is it in the queer traces in a Cather text? Or in the multiple narrators of a Midwest podcast? Is a palimpsest a zombie apocalypse written over post-Civil War Kansas in Dread Nation? Or is it the elision of the words “climate change” or “oil spill” from government documents about threats to the Ogallala aquifer? Is it a strategy for reading Georgia O’Keeffe’s landscapes or Cormac McCarthy’s prose? What are the palimpsests of the West?

We invite papers and discussions addressing these and other topics that seek to describe, undercover, and animate the inscriptions in and beyond this layered western space.

Send queries to Audrey Goodman and/or Lisa Tatonetti, our 2021 Presidents.

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  • Western Literature Association (WLA)

    Founded in 1965, the Western Literature Association (WLA) is a non-profit, scholarly association that promotes the study of the diverse literature and cultures of the North American West, past and present.

  • Western American Literature (WAL)

    (The Journal)

    Published by the Western Literature Association, Western American Literature is the leading journal in western American literary studies.