Reviews of Peer-Reviewed Journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences

We give you the scuttlebutt on academic journals—aiding you in selecting the right journal for publication—in reviews that are sometimes snarky, sometimes lengthy, always helpful. Written by Princeton University graduate students and Wendy Laura Belcher.

MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States)

For those with articles that provincialize or problematize the idea of the U.S. and its literary output.

MELUS is a quarterly journal, and one of the most generically, thematically, and theoretically diverse journals that takes up US Literatures. It’s important to point out that MELUS is quite spatially and temporally specific when it refers to US Literature rather than American Literature. This is largely due to an emphasis on “provincializing” the US and taking America to stand for the Western Hemisphere more broadly. Its chief editor, since 2014, is Gary Totten, from North Dakota State University. The journal’s previous editor and editorial staff were at the University of Connecticut. MELUS publishes articles, interviews, and reviews. All submissions must be anonymous and accompanied by a 250-word abstract. The MELUS website suggests that replies will take 3 to 6 months.

MELUS was first published in 1974, but the organization has existed since 1973. Since its inception, the journal has been devoted to the large archive of US Literatures published outside of the Anglo American canon. From European born writers to Asian American writers, MELUS contains studies of authors whose origins span the globe. Because of this, many articles that I use for my own research on migrant literatures comes from within its pages. MELUS also runs an annual conference.

MELUS seems to run a large number of special or themed issues. In 2014, 3 of the 4 issues were themed: “Gender, Transnationalism, and Ethnic American Identity” (39.4), “Thick Historical and Cultural Contexts for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literary Texts” (39.3), and “Rescripting Ethnic Bodies and Subjectivities” (39.1). In 2013, 2 of the issues were themed. The journal publishes many articles each issue, generally from 9 to 11, but sometimes 8. 4 to 5 reviews are published in each issue, but one issue had 7 (39.2), and one had 9 (36.2). The range of authors written on is huge, and is significantly multi-ethnic, as one might imagine. From 2011 to 2014, authors included: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Charles Chesnutt, Junot Díaz, Pat Mora, Gloria Anzaldúa, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, Sui Sin Far, Ruth Ozeki, Bharati Mukherjee, Loung Ung, Mary Antin, Jean Toomer, Sarah Winnemucca, Sapphire, Marilynne Robinson, Langston Hughes, Sojourner Truth, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwidge Danticat, Philip Roth, Yankev Glatshteyn, Christina García, Lucille Clifton, Ana Castillo, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Safran Foer, Julia Alvarez, Chang-rae Lee, Toni Morrison (multiple articles on Paradise in a special issue on Morrison), Jeffrey Eugenides, Edward P. Jones, Diana Abu-Jaber, Anzia Yezierska, James Weldon Johnson, Sherman Alexie, Claude McKay, Sandra Cisneros, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Louis Adamic, Anna Douglass (in an issue which also published poems as well as articles), August Wilson, Ralph Ellison, Barack and Michelle Obama, Gayl Jones, and many others. Essentially, the journal calls its critics and readers to think of race and ethnicity as formal, contextual, and constitutive concerns for US Literatures broadly, including works by white authors.

Some of the articles I read are split into sections (Alumbaugh’s “Narrative Coyotes,” Dobbs’s “Diasporic Designs,” Szeghi’s “Weaving Transnational Identity in Caramelo,” and Dekker’s “Jean Toomer, Sojourner”), while others opt for an un-split essay (López’s “Good-Bye Revolution—Hello Cultural Mystique” and Freedman’s “A Jewish Problem?”). In each case, the argument takes a few pages to develop. Each article begins by establishing the problem, either through an explanation of a text’s central question, the introduction of the essay’s key term, or a literature review of a text’s reception and critical history. Two of the articles take an interesting approach: Szeghi (on Cisneros’s Caramelo) and Dobbs (on Morrison’s Paradise) begin by writing about an author’s previous comments as they relate, quite directly and intentionally, to the work in question. Many of the articles argue for the “more nuanced/complex” status of a text, especially in regards to previous academic criticism.

Dekker’s article adds another layer onto the vexed and vexing argument over Jean Toomer’s racial identification and its influence on his writing, by delving into the archive for a look at Toomer’s A Drama of the Southwest. It’s an interesting approach, since most Toomer criticism focuses on his biography as it tracks onto Cane, his most famous and influential work. Freedman’s article is part of a special issue on Jewish American writers in English, Yiddish, and other languages, and after the introduction, inaugurates a debate about Jewish Literature’s status as Ethnic Literature. His article occasioned two responses within the same issue, so one might think it is an argumentative screed against Ethnic Literature writ large; Freedman’s argument, however, is quite nuanced and takes up the shifting ideas of ethnicity and Ethnic Studies as perhaps paradigmatically represented by the question of whether Jewish writers are ethnic writers. He situates the debate within political, cultural, and literary history, and to great effect argues that we must “articulate, embrace, and celebrate the fact that the field [of Jewish Studies] is always already global, transdisciplinary, and comparative, and will develop more fully in those directions in the future” (36). This sentiment seems to drive MELUS more broadly. Although it can perhaps be seen as a field specific journal (the field being “Ethnic Literature,” which is an enormous field, if it is one), it can also be seen as a discipline journal, for both Ethnic Studies and American Studies. It could perhaps have more work on the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as delve into more historically important works from the 17th century, especially as they pertain to the development of race and ethnicity as organizing concepts for political society across the Americas. That said, the journal is very wide-ranging and diverse in its publications, making it an invigorating read.

For my own article-in-development, I am looking at three essays on Morrison’s Paradise, in particular the piece by Cynthia Dobbs. I am also quite intrigued by the López, Alumbaugh, and Szeghi pieces, as they speak directly to the chapter I am currently working on.

by Francisco Robles

Word count:

Articles per year: 36-44

Cite Style: MLA

Disciplines: American Literature, African American Literature, Latina/o Literature, Ethnic Literature, Comparative Literature

Note: Submit a ~250 word abstract.Website:

Alumbaugh, Heather. “Narrative Coyotes: Migration and Narrative Voice in Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo.” MELUS 35.1 (Spring 2010): 53-75.

Dekker, Carolyn. “Jean Toomer, Sojourner: Striking Experience in the South and Southwest.” MELUS 39.4 (Winter 2014): 92-113.

Dobbs, Cynthia. “Diasporic Designs of House, Home, and Haven in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” MELUS 36.2 (Summer 2011): 109-126.

Freedman, Jonathan. “Do American and Ethnic American Studies Have a Jewish Problem; or, When Is an Ethnic Not an Ethnic, and What Should We Do about It?” MELUS        37.2 (Summer 2012): 19-40.

López, Dennis. “Good-Bye Revolution—Hello Cultural Mystique: Quinto Sol Publications and Chicano Literary Nationalism.” MELUS 35.3 (Fall 2010): 183-210.

Szeghi, Tereza M. “Weaving Transnational Cultural Identity through Travel and Diaspora in Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo.” MELUS 39.4 (Winter 2014): 162-185.

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