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MLA 2020
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The 2020 MLA Annual Convention will be held in Seattle from 9 to 12 January. The presidential theme for the convention is Being Human.

1/9/2020 to 1/12/2020
When: Thursday, January 9, 2020
Where: Seattle, Washington 
United States

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2020 Presidential Theme: Being Human
The presidential theme of the 2020 MLA convention is Being Human. I hope it will generate lively conversations among colleagues who take different approaches to texts, so that our meeting in Seattle will create new networks of intellectual engagement among our members.

I invite MLA members to reflect on the role of literature and language in defining the nature of the human in the face of what appears to be its diminishment and to provoke debates on the role of the humanities in a changing world. What has been the role of the creative imagination in marking out the social spaces of what we call humanity? How has literature been called upon to bear witness to both the possibility and limits of the human in the modern world? How has the human condition been thought and written about in diverse historical periods and geographic spaces? Can literature and its criticism continue to inspire the desire for human freedom in an age of intolerance? What is the role of a diverse community of writers and readers in the thinking of the world and our relation to it?

I encourage members to think about these questions from the greatest range of perspectives possible—ethics and ethnicity, linguistics and literary history, environmental studies, gender and sexuality studies, queer theory, criticism, writing, composition studies, pedagogy, public culture, and civic engagement. In addition to the main theme, panels can be imagined in a number of clusters and subthemes:

Defining the human: How is the human defined in the multiple languages and traditions we work in? What is the relation of the human to the animal, the material, and the inanimate?
Literature and human rights: How have writers and critics responded to old and new threats to the rights of human beings? What is the relationship of texts and forms of suffering such as slavery, racial oppression, colonialism, and gendered violence?
Citizenship and belonging: In an age of increasing xenophobia and social division, can literature provide a space of gathering, of the making of alternative communities? Can we come together in texts and other spaces of reading?
Technology and the new media: How are new technologies transforming the way we imagine and think about the human? Has literary scholarship affected the conception of technology and its service to humanity?
Encounters in the classroom and workplace: How can we imagine more humane spaces of working and teaching? Is a pedagogy of care possible in late industrial society?
The public sphere: Does literature still have the capacity to transform the public sphere? How can we use our skills as teachers and critics to engage a public outside the university and secure the place of the humanities in a democratic culture?
I encourage members to take advantage of the new presentation formats that have emerged in recent conventions. In addition to the working groups and poster sessions introduced in 2018, we will continue with the “Humanities in Five” events initiated in 2019, inviting participants to describe their research briefly in terms comprehensible to those outside their fields. For the convention in 2020, we are planning events with the MLA’s many creative writers and critics, including the presentation of poems and short stories related to the convention theme.

I look forward to seeing the ways in which MLA members reflect on this theme at the Seattle convention and hope that you will join us there!

Simon E. Gikandi

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