The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Notes and Documents
The American Literature Symposiums
MARTIN SHOCKLEY *
O N FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 1940, THE FRONT PAGE OF THE Oklahoma Daily
student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma, carried-be-
tween the headlines "Britain Pours More Men Into Norway" and
"Sooners Open Big Six Title Defense Today"-a three-column head-
line: "Symposium Today Will Reflect Latest Trends in Modern Ameri-
can Literature." Pictures of professors Ernest Leisy and Floyd Stovall
embellished the story, which began: "The first symposium on Ameri-
can literature ever conducted by a university in the southwest will be
held today on campus under the sponsorship of the department of
English."
The symposium was the culmination of more than a year of planning
and politicking by two young assistant professors, both of whom had
come to the university in 1938: Charles Child Walcutt and I. As the
only Ph.D.'s to join the department in more than a decade, we saw our-
selves as movers and shakers in contrast to the pervasive somnolence of
the department. We did stir things up: we attended meetings, read
papers, published, and made ourselves generally obnoxious to our
elderly colleagues who did none of these things. At that time the Uni-
versity of Oklahoma had no retirement policy, and the department was
heavy with what is now called "deadwood." Inevitably, we were consid-
ered a threat to a comfortable status quo. Our worst impertinence was
insisting upon the validity of American literature in a Department of
English and pushing for a whole curriculum of new and revolutionary
courses in Emerson and Thoreau, Poe and Hawthorne, Mark Twain
and Henry James, over the resistance of elderly professors, one of
whom queried me petulantly, "But is there any American literature?"
* Martin Shockley has been Emeritus Professor at the University of North Texas since 1974
During his tenure there he published Southwest Writers Anthology and The Richmond Stage as well
as numerous articles and essays in professional journals He served as president of the Poetry
Society of Texas, the Texas Folklore Society, the Texas Conference of College Teachers of En-
glish, and the Southwest Conference of the American Association of University Professors He
was secretary-treasurer of the Texas Institute of Letters and founding president of the Ameri-
can Studies Association of Texas

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed November 25, 2014.