The American Literature Working Group, generally referred to as “AmLit,” is one of the most broadly conceived working groups at Penn, considering it does not limit itself to particular timelines, topics, or sets of problematics. Even so, the grounding analytic—the “Am” in “AmLit”—points to the field’s highly situated and contested position in relation to national histories and formations. A word often deployed as shorthand for the U.S., in its adjectival state, American nevertheless belongs, more accurately, to a multiplicity of persons, communities, geographies, and states claimed across the Western Hemisphere, as well as through other continents. Rather than trying to determine where the field should begin and end, AmLit defines itself conscientiously in the interrogative, asking, what modes of living and feeling have been or are now available through the trope of the Americas? To what ends do American literary texts themselves dramatize the porosity of national frameworks? And how do we, as scholars, approach the contemporary geopolitical persistence of American empire?
To engage these questions, AmLit brings together graduate students and faculty throughout the fall and spring semesters to hear invited lectures; offer feedback on works-in-progress by visiting scholars, faculty, and grads; and discuss current issues facing the field. Our concentrations have been broad and interdisciplinary, ranging from Colonial and Antebellum print culture to Post-45 and Twenty-First Century cultural studies, and spanning African American, Asian American, Latin American, Caribbean, Postcolonial, Feminist, Queer, and Disability studies. In the past few years, we’ve heard from speakers like Anna Brickhouse, Crystal Parikh, Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Lara Cohen, Caleb Smith, and Edlie Wong. We strive to promote collegial exchange between a variety of intellectual communities in the Philadelphia area and encourage Americanists from the region to join our listserv.