Samuel Cohen is an award-winning teacher and scholar of American literature at the University of Missouri, where he teaches twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature and culture and directs undergraduate studies. He is author of After the End of History: American Fiction in the 1990s and coeditor of The Legacy of David Foster Wallace and The Clash Takes on the World: Transnational Perspectives on the Only Band That Matters. He is series editor of The New American Canon: The Iowa Series in Contemporary Literature and Culture and author of the textbooks 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology and Literature: The Human Experience.
The State of the State: Missouri Writers on Missouri
This talk engages the things writers from Missouri have had to say about the state of their state. Writers such as the first African American novelist Williams Wells Brown, Mark Twain, T. S. Eliot, Tennessee Williams, Maya Angelou, Calvin Trillin, and many other essayists, novelists, poets, and playwrights who have hailed from Missouri have had a lot to say about the state. As a place that has been implicated in so much of American history, that is home to the last eastern city and the first western one, that has been shaped by people from France, Spain, and Germany as well as Boston, Kentucky, and the people who were here before all of them, there is much about Missouri that is informed by and connects to the rest of the country and the world. The course of the nation, of its political realities and aspirations, of its expansion westward and its foreign entanglements, all of these developments have marked Missouri, and as they have done so they have provided fuel for the work of a great and varied group of writers. Ultimately, their work can itself be read as providing a composite portrait of their state.
The Missouri Crises
The Missouri Crisis is the name that has been given to the turmoil the United States was thrown into by Missouri’s application for statehood. The tensions that emerged in that crisis existed not only in Missouri but across the nation, and their suppression and reemergence in the Civil War mark a pattern that continues today. Missouri history—from the Crisis early in the nineteenth century to the crisis in Ferguson early in the twenty-first century—is marked by these tensions, and those marks are visible in the literature of Missouri. Examining a range of works by Missouri writers, this talk will explore not only the history and literary history of the state but also the future of Missouri as a place to live in and write about.