WLA Conference 2020

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WLA Conference 2020

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

55th WLA Conference

Theme: Graphic Wests

October 21-24, 2020


WLA Co-Presidents for 2020 will be Dr. Rebecca Lush, California State University San Marcos, and Dr. Kerry Fine, Arizona State University.   

Information for Graduate Students: 

Connecting with other grads:

The graduate students of the WLA have a Facebook group page that is used for networking. Simply request to join and one of the Graduate Student Representatives will add you to the group. Or, if you are not on Facebook, you can contact the grad reps directly about networking opportunities during the conference: Jillian Moore Bennion (jillian.bennion@gmail.com) & Surabhi Balachander (surabhib@umich.edu).

WLA Awards 2020:

Graduate students: Please consider submitting your essay for the J. Golden Taylor Award, the Dorys Crow Grover Awards, or the Louis Owens Award. All applications and accompanying materials are due by September 4th.  

All presenters sharing creative work: Please consider submitting your WLA 2020 material for the Creative Writing Award. All applications and accompanying materials are due by September 4th.

We are ready to receive your submissions. The deadline is July 15, 2020.

All users of the WLA Conference Conftool portal need to create a new user account. Those from previous years have been deleted.


The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant changes in our everyday lives and how we conduct business in academia. Due to concerns that there could be a renewed wave of infections in the fall and the possibility of declining university support for conference travel, we have decided to transition our October 2020 meeting to an online format. These are unprecedented times and we cannot, in good conscience, risk the physical health of our members or the economic health of our association.
While we are saddened to not have an opportunity to meet in person as an association, please know that your 2020 co-presidents are working on putting together an online conference that still provides social connection and interaction. Please see our updated CFP attached to this message and always visit the WLA 2020 conference webpage for all the latest information. The portal for submitting proposals will be open very soon, and we’ve also extended the deadline to July 15. We know that many of you, ourselves included, have been extremely busy lately. Many of us have been shifting much of what we do to online formats, and so we trust that this extension will prove welcome and reassuring.

Despite these less-than-ideal circumstances, we ask you to join us in focusing on the positives of this unexpected turn of events. An online meeting will allow us to try a nearly carbon neutral conference format which our sister organization ASLE has done in the past. We are also happy to have increased accessibility with an online environment. We recognize that online is not a substitute for the connection and experience we enjoy each year at our face-to-face meetings, but we hope to connect with you all virtually this October and then in person in Fall 2021 in Santa Fe.

Kerry Fine, Arizona State University
Rebecca M. Lush, California State University, San Marcos


October 21-24, 2020

Vortex Mosaic Surfboard, by Cherrie LaPorte. [2014]. Image courtesy of Cherrie LaPorte. Photo © Phil Ireland.

Vortex Mosaic Surfboard, by Cherrie LaPorte. [2014]. Image courtesy of Cherrie LaPorte. Photo © Phil Ireland.

Due to the unusual and unprecedented public health concerns and attendant restrictions on university sponsored-travel related to COVID-19,the 2020 conference will be held virtually.


The American West and the western have long been nurtured by visual culture, in particular via the California-specific locations of Hollywood and its ties to the film industry and San Diego as the international headquarters for comic book culture. Drawing on this mixture, the theme “Graphic Wests” invites proposals that take up the graphic in all its connotations, from graphic content to visual texts as well as the intersections of the two when considering the varied literatures and cultural products of the North American West. We also invite papers that address the unique culture of Southern California, such as surf and coastal literatures, along with papers that examine California writers and themes.

The 2020 Distinguished Achievement Award winners include poet Juan Felipe Herrera (21st National Poet Laureate), and fiction author Stephen Graham Jones, whose works exemplify “Graphic Wests.” Confirmed speakers include: Stephen Graham Jones and graphic novelist, playwright, and singer/songwriter Arigon Starr.

Since we originally intended to host this meeting in Southern California, we are still interested in proposals that focus on issues related to California and the American West but as always, the WLA meeting remains interested in proposals that focus on any aspect of the literatures and cultures of the North American West (including Canada and Mexico).

In addition to proposals on any aspect of the literatures and cultures of the North American West, the WLA especially encourages panels and papers that explore the following topics:

• Comic books/graphic novels set in the West and/or western comics
• Filmic and televisual representations of the West/western
• Borderlands literature
• Graphic violence, language, and/or sexuality in the West/western
• Texts set in the West, or that take up western themes, that incorporate visual elements or make use of graphic design in their engagement with language
• Approaches to teaching texts and topics of the North American West
• California writers and texts (Le Guin, Steinbeck, Didion, Mary Austin, John Rollin Ridge, Helen Hunt Jackson, María Ruiz de Burton, etc.)
• Writers and texts that explore California surfing and beach culture
• The work of invited speaker Arigon Starr
• The work of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner Juan Felipe Herrera
• The work of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner Stephen Graham Jones

While we are still interested in traditional 4 person panels, this format may not be as captivating in an online format. We encourage proposals for innovative formats that will take advantage of the virtual (and graphic) nature of the conference. We are also implementing a range of formats including:

Lightning Talks – 5-6 presenters. Each with a 5-7 minute presentation time. Proposals can range from concise traditional-type presentations to Ignite or PechaKucha 20×20 style talks. Abstracts for Lightning Talks should be 200 words.

Conversation Panels – (Preformed Panels Only) Propose to help facilitate a focused conversation on a topic relevant to WLA members. Each scheduled conversation will have 2 or 3 leaders to share responsibility for its focus, depth, concreteness. This is NOT a traditional panel or a roundtable. This is a conversation that should include an audience participation component. Each of the 2 or 3 conversation leaders will submit an abstract of no more than 250 words explaining their individual contribution.

Public Intellectual Panels – (Preformed Panels Only) 3 presenters each with a 15-minute maximum for a talk designed particularly for an audience drawn from the general public. Be sure to identify your intended audience in your abstract (your local community gathered at the public library, a retirement community, etc…) and take care to shape your presentation for a non-academic audience. Abstracts for public intellectual talks should be 250 words.

Roundtables – Proposals for a Roundtable (5-6 presenters) should be presentations of 5-6 minutes each. Roundtables differ from Lightning Talk panels in that the while preformed Lightning Talk panels might be thematically coherent each presentation is individual. Roundtables typically take the shape of a larger discussion or debate based on the brief comments of the presenters. The organizer must submit an overview of the Roundtable in an abstract of no more than 250 words. Each presenter on the Roundtable will submit an abstract of no more than 200 words explaining their individual contribution.

Creative Writing/Work(s) – 4 presenters. Each with a 15-minute maximum presentation time. Present your original creative work (in any genre). Abstracts for the Creative track should be 150-200 words.

Presenters on preformed panels and roundtable discussions must submit proposals individually.

The deadline for submissions is July 15, 2020

Proposals can be submitted using the WLA Conference Conftool portal: https://www.conftool.pro/wla-conference-2020/.

Please submit questions to Rebecca M. Lush or Kerry Fine at WLAConference2020@westernlit.org.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE INFORMATION. It will be posted here as it becomes available.

Tags: Literature and cultures of the American Westliterature of the American Westregional studiesWestern Literature Association ConferenceWLA Conference participation


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