The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will host the first biennial John Dos Passos Conference Friday and Saturday, October 10-11, in the Signal Mountain Room of the University Center. The conference will feature scholars from all over the United States and from at least four foreign countries.
Sponsors of the conference are the UTC Department of English and the John Dos Passos Society, founded in Chattanooga in 2011 by Victoria Bryan, a former English graduate student at UTC, and Dr. Aaron Shaheen, who introduced Bryan to Dos Passos’s writings in a graduate seminar in 2008. The conference papers will cover a wide range of topics, from the author’s World War I-era novels to his mid-century travel writings.
The conference is scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, which Dos Passos saw up close as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross on the Western Front near Verdun, France. His wartime experiences drew him in the 1920s to the crowd of fellow Paris-based expatriates, which included Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Throughout the ’20s and early ’30s Dos Passos aligned himself with the political Left, but by the late 1930s he gravitated to the Right. This shift was precipitated in part by his disillusionment with the Spanish Leftists, whom he and Hemingway aided during the Spanish Civil War.
“Though John Dos Passos was a part of the same expatriate group that included Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald, he is frequently left off of modern American literature course syllabi. One possible explanation is that his narrative innovations are so complex that they do not appeal to readers or students. Another possible explanation is that Dos Passos’s political shift from left to right in the late 1930s made it difficult for scholars to place him in a particular modernist camp. Whatever the reason for his marginalization, this conference is being held in part to show just how important John Dos Passos is to American literature of the first half of the twentieth century,” said Dr. Aaron Shaheen, UC Foundation Associate Professor of English.
Dubbed by the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1936 as “the greatest writer of our time,” Dos Passos was one of the chief literary chroniclers of the early twentieth century. His fiction includes the Great War classics One Man’s Initiation: 1917 (1920) and Three Soldiers (1921). His Manhattan Transfer (1925), long a staple of modern American literature college courses, anticipated the narrative innovations that were fully developed in his U. S. A. trilogy of the following decade.
“Dos Passos’ understanding, for instance, of the impact of technology on the human psyche was unmatched in his day. As a keen observer of the First World War, the ‘Roaring’ 20s, the Depression Era, and the rise of communism and fascism, he deserves his due among his fellow modernists,” Shaheen explained.
The keynote address will be delivered by John Dos Passos Coggin, the author’s grandson, who is a writer himself. Coggin’s latest work is Walkin’ Lawton (2012), a biography of the late Florida governor Lawton Chiles. Coggin’s keynote address is entitled “Dos Passos, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald: The Writing Habits behind the Masterpieces.”
UTC faculty and students may attend the conference for free. For more information about this and other World War I-related events held on campus, please contact Dr. Aaron Shaheen, UC Foundation Associate Professor of English, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-5398.