BMCC at the MLA

BMCC Professors Joyce Zonana, David Bahr and Chamutal Noimann

BMCC Professors Joyce Zonana, David Bahr and Chamutal Noimann
February 18, 2014

Every year, the Modern Language Association (MLA) hosts a convention attended by its 30,000 members from over 100 countries.

This year, among the hundreds of presenters at the convention were BMCC English Professors David Bahr, Chamutal Noimann and Joyce Zonana.
The 2014 MLA convention, held in Chicago, explored the theme “Vulnerable Times,” addressing “vulnerabilities of life, the planet, and our professional disciplines, in our own time and throughout history,” writes MLA President Marianne Hirsch.

The purpose of the theme, she says, is “to illuminate acts of imagination and forms of solidarity and resistance that promote social change,” and BMCC’s three presenters—in separate sessions—addressed it from the perspective of their own areas of scholarly research and expertise.

(Re)constructing a fragmented childhood

Professor David Bahr, known for his research and scholarship on American literature after 1945 presented on a panel entitled “The Creative-Critical Dissertation.”

“The roundtable convened six early-career academics whose dissertations straddled the creative-critical divide and do not fit neatly within the existing disciplinary paradigms of scholarship,” says Professor Bahr.

“My paper examined the challenges and rewards of my project, which employs theories of life-writing and autobiographical texts in four distinct genres—fiction, poetry, essay, and comics—as a means of theorizing and (re)constructing my own fragmented childhood in foster care.”

Randall Jarrall: ‘The Stuff of Legends’

Professor Chamutal Noimann organized a panel sponsored by the Children and Young Adult division of the MLA, in commemoration of the centennial of the birth of American poet Randall Jarrell.

“Jarrell was a prolific and influential literary critic, poet, essayist and novelist,” she says. “He was a talented teacher and singular writer for children. Jarrell’s collaboration with the late Maurice Sendak is the stuff of legends.”

Professor Noimann, who is known for her scholarly work on children’s, young adult and Victorian literature, pulled together panelists including Patricia Oman of Hastings College, “who interpreted Jarrell’s children’s book Animal Family through the lens of animal studies in a talk entitled ‘The Child is the Animal in Randall Jarrell’s Animal Family’.”

Another panelist, poet Molly McQuade, revisited Jarrell’s essay “The Age of Criticism,” as well as three of his poems, while Harvard University professor, poet and critic Stephen Burt presented his paper “Randall Jarrell’s Impossible Children,” and treated attendees to a short selection of Jarrell’s as-yet unpublished verse.

Finally, says Professor Noimann, Richard Flynn, a professor at Georgia Southern University and author of Randall Jarrell and the Lost World of Childhood “responded to all the papers and concluded a worthy celebration of a true American master.”

‘The Sultan and the Slave’

BMCC Professor Joyce Zonana’s MLA presentation, “Revisiting ‘Feminist Orientalism’ in the Twenty-First Century,” was part of the panel “Approaches to Feminist Orientalism: The Enlightenment to the Contemporary.” 

Professor Zonana actually coined the term “feminist orientalism” in her much-reprinted 1993 article, “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre,” which appeared in the journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

Feminist orientalism, she explains, “is the use of stereotyped, negative images of Muslim and other Eastern women by Western feminists who displace ‘the source of patriarchal oppression onto an “Oriental” or “Mahometan” society’, thus figuring their own projects as ‘the removal of Eastern elements from Western life’.”  

In her talk at MLA, she spoke of how she would write her noted article today, “focusing not so much on negative images of Muslim or Eastern women (which are plentiful), but exploring instead positive, empowering images, using as examples the storyteller Scheherazade from The 1001 Nights and the characters in Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel, Women Without Men.”

Who will represent BMCC in 2015?

Next year’s MLA convention, scheduled to take place January 8-10 in Vancouver, will explore the theme, “Negotiating Sites of Memory.”

For submission and other deadlines pertaining to that convention, click here.


EDTIOR’S NOTE: It has just been brought to our attention that English department adjunct professor Marcia Newfield also participated in an MLA panel, “Defining the Moment, Defining the Momentum: Perspectives on the language of employment status.”

“I received a grant from the PSC professional development fund for adjuncts to attend,” says Professor Newfield. “Info on application procedure is available on the psc web site,”

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  • The 2014 MLA (Modern Language Convention) was just held in Chicago
  • BMCC English Professors David Bahr, Chamutal Noimann and Joyce Zonana took part in panels and presented their own research and scholarship

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