In The News

Modern Language Convention Brings Renowned Scholars


Published: Jan 6, 2017

By Philadelphia Tribune Staff

British-born Ghanaian-American philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, renowned playwright Anna Deavere Smith and award-winning Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison will be among those taking center stage this week when 7,000 participants gather in Philadelphia for the 132nd Modern Language Association Convention.

Running through Sunday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the convention involves four days of presentations, discussions and debate on “a broad array of topics related to the study and teaching of language, literature and culture,” according to a news release from the association.

More than half of the gathering’s 800 sessions will revolve around the theme of “Boundary Conditions,” for which Appiah explains, “This year’s theme acknowledges the interconnectedness of our research and teaching as well as the many other ways scholars cross or break down barriers.”

The convention’s plenary session will be led by Appiah, whose Ghanaian father was a Member of the British Parliament, and an English novelist and scholar mother whose 1953 interracial marriage was said to have been one of the inspirations for the film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Appiah, MLA’s president, currently serves as a professor of philosophy and law at New York University. His work in African-American Studies began at Yale as a visiting graduate student in the 1970s. Appiah is also the author of the New York Times’ Ethicist column and has penned such books as the award-winning “In My Father’s House” and the more recent “Lines of Descent: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity” in 2014 and “A Decent Respect: Honor in the Lives of People and of Nations” in 2015.

The convention will also honor the work of African-American actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who will receive the Phyllis Franklin Award for Public Advocacy of the Humanities at the MLA Awards Ceremony.

According to MLA, 13 of the convention’s sessions are free and open to the public. Those sessions include an “MLA Style Workshop” and “A Creative Conversation with Lorna Goodison.” Goodison, an award-winning Jamaican poet, will discuss her work and read some of her poems.

The MLA Annual Convention also features presentations on dozens of modern languages, teaching language and literature, the possibilities of digital media and the humanities in general.

“This year’s convention illustrates the incredible scope of members’ work and interests,” said MLA Executive Director Rosemary G. Feal. “The sessions here represent the full span of humanities scholarship — with presentations on contemporary drama and performance, medical humanities and bibliographic studies.”

MLA convention sessions will take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. While about a dozen of the sessions are free, members of the public may also purchase a $10 day pass to the exhibit hall. The MLA Job Information Center, which hosts hundreds of interviews for positions in higher education at each convention, will be located in the convention center.