University of Arkansas

Graduate Students in English 2019 Conference

“Opening Doors: Creating Opportunities for Difficult Conversations”

March 9, 2019

Starting conversations on difficult topics can seem insurmountable at times. The 2019 GSE Conference will consider how texts (books, tv shows, films, social media, etc.) open the door to difficult conversations, offering the opportunity for enlightenment and understanding in a time seemingly bereft of both.

The 2018-19 University of Arkansas’ “One Book One Community” text, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is one such text, offering insight into issues of race within the US in our own time. Charles Dickens’ novels Oliver Twist (1837-9) and Bleak House (1852-53) opened conversations on poverty for Victorian readers. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) uncovered women’s mental health issues. W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903) served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement in the nineteenth century. Novels are not the only mediums that have sparked conversations.

From Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome,” to Tupac Shakur’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” to Kacey Musgrove’s “Follow Your Arrow,” popular music has given pause for thought on issues of civil rights, teen pregnancy, and sexuality.

I Love Lucy, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, and Orange is the New Black, forced discussions on multiracial marriage, nuclear war, and race, gender and identity, on television. The movie adaptation of The Hate U Give continues the conversation began by Thomas’ book, while The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List, and 12 Years a Slaves deal with PTSD, the Holocaust, and slavery. The list of texts – those already stated, but also podcasts, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, documentaries, to name just a few –serving as a facilitator for difficult conversations is seemingly endless.

Topics could include but are by no means limited toTexts that open(ed) conversations on difficult topics, or the use of those texts in the media or in the classroom.  We also appreciate creative writing texts dealing with difficult topics.

Submissions:  Please email your paper abstracts (of 300 words or fewer) or panel proposals by January 20, 2019 to Sharon Fox, at Please include your name, institutional affiliation, and email address on your submission.