Call for Papers


A Special Issue of Studies in American Fiction
"Critical Approaches to Age in American Literature"

Late style. Juvenilia. Coming of age. Constructions of age shape not only literary forms and representations but also our critical approaches to them, and yet, this ideologically fraught category of social organization remains neglected in US literary studies.  We invite submissions for a special issue that raises new questions about the undertheorized work of age, maturation, and the stages of life in American literature. How do we historicize works in relation to shifting cultural age scripts or emergent life course norms?  What visions of the aging process do literary works inscribe, and what value(s) do texts attribute to particular life stages? For instance, Charlotte Temple is fifteen-years-old when she is seduced and abandoned while her counterpart, The Coquette’s Eliza Wharton, is thirty-seven-years old when she suffers the same fate. How can attention to the racialized politics of age help us read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, who is at once a baby, nineteen-years-old, and eternal? And how might Still Alice’s vision of midlife memory loss help us think through intersections between aging and autonomy? What constitutes deviant aging or an oppositional representation of embodied age?

Building on the work of childhood studies, this special issue moves beyond youth to consider “age” more broadly as a key index and site of meaning for American literature and culture. As an analytic frame, age can provide an intellectual meeting ground for scholars working from a range of methodological perspectives and historical eras on related concepts such as temporality, personhood, political autonomy, and the like. An attention to age dovetails with interpretive practices such as queer theory that aim to destabilize identitarian categories and allow for alternative ways of imagining subjectivity and embodiment. Similarly, age studies intersects with disability studies in a shared attention to bodies that do not align with capitalist values of productivity and self-sufficiency. How might we envision the role of imaginative literature in the genealogy of age categories and their relation to adjacent and overlapping structures, including those of race, class, gender, and sexuality?

Possible topics might include but are certainly not limited to: 

  • Age as an acknowledged but underexplored heuristic for disability studies 
  • Expectations for “successful aging,” particularly under late capitalism
  • Age and medical humanities, esp. issues of debility and frailty
  • Age as an instrument of biopolitics and population management
  • Narratives of middle age/midlife
  • Age and narrative form beyond the Bildungsroman 
  • Age and aesthetics (e.g. the notion of “late style” or “juvenilia”)
  • Feminist responses to the patriarchal meanings of age
  • Lifespans and life expectancies—human, animal, environmental
  • Age fraud and/or age deviance; narratives of age passing
  • Representations of senility and/or dementia
  • Narratives of age rejuvenation, longevity, or eternal youth
  • Intersections between hierarchies of age and race
  • Queer figurations of age, development, and becoming  
  • Cross-generational collaboration and/or intimacies

Please send 250 word abstracts/statements of interest by Feb 1, 2018; final submissions of 8000–10,000 words (including endnotes and works cited) in Chicago format will be due June 1, 2018. Please send electronic submissions and any queries to the guest editors: Sari Edelstein (  and Melanie Dawson (