Leslie Leonard (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
In the wake of 2020’s “shelter in place” orders, a majority of Americans suddenly found themselves sheltering alongside only their most immediate family members, those with whom they shared a household. This experience has sparked a renewed interest in critiques of the nuclear family as an unsustainable and socially-isolating formation; however, this critique of American dominant culture’s definition of “family” is by no means new. In the varied pages of American literature, we find a multitude of family and community formations, some more recognizable to us than others. This panel discussion focuses on depictions of family, kinship, household, and community in American literature with a particular eye to authors and works that seek to challenge, reimagine, or expand these concepts. This panel explores how American authors and texts have, over time, considered (and reconsidered) familial ties, consanguinity, chosen-community, forced separation, and how we define and locate the ties that bind us, particularly with an eye to potentially rethinking familiar family formations for the future.