This past Saturday I delivered a paper entitled, “Escape and Re-Invention: The Automobile in This Boy’s Life and Anywhere But Here” for a panel at the 2012 South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference in Durham, NC.

The panel theme was “Horseless Carriages and Hybrid Mustangs: Travel and the Automobile in Twentieth- and Twentieth-First-Century American Literature,” which was right up my alley, since I had focused on the automobile in American fiction and nonfiction for my graduate lecture at Bennington last January. I really enjoyed digging into Tobias Wolff’s memoir and Mona Simpson’s novel again and learned so much from the other panelists and the ensuing discussion.

My colleagues on the panel were Rebecca Godwin of Barton College and Jason Vredenburg of the University of Illinois. Rebecca’s paper was on “Pickups, Cadillacs, Mavericks, and Jeeps: Traveling the Mountain South in Robert Morgan’s Short Fiction.” It was a special treat to have  Robert  Morgan, who is on the faculty at Cornell, in the audience! Jason’s paper was on “The Early Automobile and the Transformation of Travel in Edith Wharton and Theodore Dreiser.” I appreciated the opportunity to learn from them and came way with several books I’d like to read to enhance my  understanding of this area of literature, which continually ties into my training as an urban planner.

Photo by Danielle Newton

The panel chair was Ben Lowery and the secretary was James Everett, both of the University of Mississippi. Of course, I think it was a great topic, with a lot of rich material to be mined, which also allowed for a lively discussion with audience members, including some of my Bennington classmates: Margaret Rich, Catherine Faurot and Danielle Newton. Catherine and Danielle’s paper, “All My Tears Be Washed Away: Revelations of Displacement in Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball,” was also part of another engaging panel/discussion. Thank you to everyone associated with the Horseless Carriage panel and to SAMLA for a very positive first experience presenting at an MLA conference!

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