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Southern Childhood in U.S. Literature and Film
Katherine Henninger, Louisiana State University

Grant details:

“Quaring Childhood: Transgression and Transformation in Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits” (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “Quaring Childhood: Transgression and Transformation in Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits”
Author: Katherine Henninger
Abstract: Using Randall Kenan’s 1989 novel A Visitation of Spirits as a fulcrum, “Quaring Childhood” aims to bring several fields that have developed substantially in the past two decades—childhood studies, critical race studies, queer theory, and new southern studies—into dialogue. In her influential 2009 study, The Queer Child, Kathryn Bond Stockton asserts that all children are “thoroughly, shockingly queer,” a claim, as Michael Bibler has recently outlined (“Queer/Quare”), with many parallels in critical evaluations of the U.S. South. Responding to what he sees as a willful blindness toward race, class and ethnicity in queer theory, E. Patrick Johnson borrowed from the southern vernacular to advocate for a “quare studies” that accounts for tangible, material bodies as they are situated in local (regional, racialized, religious) practices of everyday life. “Quaring Childhood,” puts the precepts of Johnson’s “quare” in conversation with Stockton’s theory of the “publicly impossible” “ghostly gay child” as a way of exploring Kenan’s transformation of the southern gothic to address exclusionary discourses of community, region and nation in his tale of 16-year-old Horace Cross’s struggle to reconcile his emergent “queer” sexuality with his experience of southern Baptist Christianity. In ways that supplement and complicate Stockton’s queer theory, Kenan deploys gothic tropes of the monstrous, haunted and doppelganger South to assert the need for transformation, not of his gay African American protagonist, but of the “nation” that has formed and rejected him. Horace is, as Johnson would say, an instance of “theory in the flesh,” and if Horace’s flesh is graphically destroyed at the end of A Visitation of Spirits, I demonstrate, its implications resonate for the region and nation.
Date: 05/06/18
Conference Name: Annual Conference of The Society for the Study of Multi Ethnic Literature of the United States

One Book, One Festival: The Great Big Doorstep: A Novel by E.P. O'Donnell (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: One Book, One Festival: The Great Big Doorstep: A Novel by E.P. O'Donnell
Abstract: Inaugurated in 2008, the Louisiana Book Festival's One Book, One Festival discussion group continues at the 2018 Louisiana Book Festival. Participants are invited to read the same book in advance and then join the scholar-led discussion with others at the festival. The One Book, One Festival selection for 2018 is the Depression-era comic masterpiece The Great Big Doorstep: A Novel, by E. P. O'Donnell. The novel centers on the Crochets, a Cajun family who live in a ramshackle house between the levee and the Mississippi River. The Crochets dream of one day owning a stately plantation befitting the magnificent cypress doorstep they have salvaged from the river and proudly display outside their humble home. The memorable characters in this novel have their own concerns: the patriarch, Commodo, is full of wild bravado as he fluctuates between scheming, laboring, and malingering; his wife reigns as the queen of retort, though toughened by years of making do and doing without. The Crochet children also cope with personal struggles: Topal, twenty, restless, and moody, and recently dumped by her fiancé; Arthur, eighteen, attempts to strike out on his own while dodging the coddling of his mother and the fury of his father; Evvie, almost fifteen, plans to join a religious order after renouncing a lover; and twins Gussie and Paul, and baby T. J., provide an ongoing chorus of laughter and tears. Biography Katherine Henninger is Associate Professor of American Literature at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where she specializes in southern literature, visual culture, childhood studies, and women’s and gender studies. She is the author of Ordering the Façade: Photography and Contemporary Southern Women’s Writing. Her current book project, Made Strangely Beautiful: Southern Childhood in U.S. Literature and Film, is supported by a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Author: Katherine Henninger
Date: 11/10/18
Location: State Capitol, Baton Rouge, LA
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