Thinking Its Presence 2017

Thinking Its Presence 2017

Conference on Race, Creative Writing, and Art to be held at the Poetry Center

From October 19-21, 2017, Thinking Its Presence will bring together the discipline and art of pedagogy and the arts in general with perspectives from critical race theory, poetics, performance studies, literary theory, literary history, ethnic literatures, and Native American and Indigenous studies. The conference’s mission is to foster a dynamic exchange among creative writers, artists, performers, and scholars.

The conference, founded in 2014, draws its name from Dorothy Wang’s book Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2013). This award-winning book argues “that aesthetic forms are inseparable from social, political, and historical contexts when it comes to the writing and reception of poetry.” The title aptly captures our larger engagement with locating race in aesthetic discourses in an open forum for artists of all mediums, people of all races and genders.

Thinking Its Presence welcomes writers, poets, artists, performers, and scholars to propose papers, panels, performances, and readings on issues of race in contemporary prose, poetry, and art. The conference invites all work that engages race, creative writing, and scholarship in contemporary literature, and accepted panels and readings will be incorporated and celebrated with receptions and Q&A events. 

President of the Conference Board, Prageeta Sharma, said this about this year's gathering: "This conference is important because we are all thinking – right now – about how much creative work, scholarship, and practices hold conversations, ideas, attitudes, about how our imagination is part of experienced identity. Thinking Its Presence aims to have conversations about the shape of this practice, especially when creative endeavors are even more threatened due to legislative action and funding cuts. It’s more important than ever that we discuss what our institutions and framework will look like, and what kind of art we need to make now."


Conference events will take place from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm each of the three days, with keynote evenings from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm. The 9:00-5:00 sessions are only open to registered attendees, and the evening sessions will be open to the public. The daytime schedule is now available at Sched, and for information on the evening events, see our calendar


The Thinking Its Presence conference is presented by the University of Arizona Poetry Center with generous support from the following UA departments and units: Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, College of Humanities, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Africana Studies Program, Office of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence, Department of English, Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, and Institute for LGBT Studies, in addition to generous support from the Arts Foundation of Tucson and Southern Arizona, Kore Press, The Rumpus, and the Academy of American Poets. 

More information

To register, see, for more information for registrants, see, for more information about the conference and its board, see, and with questions, please contact Hannah Ensor, Literary Director, at


Thinking Its Presence: Race, Creative Writing, and Literary Study examines innovative creative writing and scholarship that re-thinks the complex and inseparable links between literary forms and the racialized thinking, processes, and histories that have shaped this country since its founding. The conference brings together the discipline and teaching of creative writing with perspectives from critical race theory, poetics, performance studies, literary theory, literary history, ethnic literatures, and Native American and Indigenous studies. We intend to foster a dynamic exchange among creative writers and scholars. To that end, the conference will include readings, panels devoted to scholarship, and panels devoted to critical discussion of pedagogies and institutional practices.

The 2017 Thinking Its Presence Conference will explore the concept of José Esteban Muñoz’ “ephemeral archive.”  

The Ephemeral Archive invites us to explore and reckon with the time and materiality of our ways of being and knowing, as writers, artists, educators and people in the world.  What is lost, found, recovered, carried, (de)fetishized, recorded, accreted, (de)authenticated, faced with deletion, elided, made mythic, performed, reenacted, residual, embodied, anecdotal and made evidence, where race, language, queerness and the creative arts intersect?  While such discussions on these topics and creative writing in the academy in general, and within MFA programs, are still few and far between, our 2017 conference expands to include performing arts, film studies, visual arts, socially engaged arts, and other creative mediums and disciplines that haven’t yet had a robust forum for this conversation. The Ephemeral Archive is an open, porous space for serious engagement, experimentation and play, a way for us to explore not only what our work means but what it does, within the contexts of arts teaching and artistic practice, community-based activism collectives and collaborations, areas of study, documentation and more, inside, outside and alongside academia.

We are proud to showcase poet, scholar, distinguished professor in Latino and Latin American art, Roberto Tejada; Arab Canadian poet, activist, cultural critic, and university professor Trish Salah; and celebrated poet, performer and librettist Douglas Kearney – performing with Haitian electronic music artist Val Jeanty – as our keynote speakers. In addition to panels and readings, we will feature performances and exhibits that engage with the concerns of our mission and the lively Tucson cultural arts community.

As with previous conferences, we welcome proposals, tributes, and panels honoring the work of those who we have recently lost—teachers, mentors, friends, guides and influences—who contributed greatly to innovative arts. 

2017 theme: The Ephemeral Archive

Proposals for the 2017 conference are now closed. 

Click here to view the PDF of the Call for Proposals (now closed) on "The Ephemeral Archive."

We welcome writers, poets, artists, performers, and scholars to propose papers, panels, performances, and readings on the theme “The Ephemeral Archive,” as it relates to issues of race in contemporary prose, poetry, the visual and the performing arts, social practice, inclusive perspectives from critical race theory, poetics, performance studies, literary theory, art history, ethnic literature, Black and African Diasporic studies, LGBTQIA, Latinx, Native American and Indigenous studies, as well as proposals in tribute to or honoring the legacies and contributions of our ancestor artists.  We are also interested in proposals that address the following:

  • The idea of “the short lived” versus “the eternal” and theories and work inspired by keynotes, features, and tributes
  • The question of “rigor” in critical and creative works by minoritarian culture workers and scholars
  • The topic of race within MFA, PhD, and Academia in general, and institutions/memberships like AWP, MLA, ACLA, CAA, NAISA, NEA, AHA, and CCCC among others (to recognize the interdisciplinarity of pedagogy, rigor, scholarship, and practice across the disciplines and to welcome collaboration among the arts and humanities (for artists, historians, and scholars alike)
  • Race and pedagogy
  • Whiteness and literary and artistic authority
  • The role of “performing” and “canonizing” in contemporary scholarship
  • Fetish and authenticity
  • The relationship among aesthetics, politics, and representation in minority literatures and broader creative practices
  • Intersections between creative, autobiographical, and theoretical work in minority artistic  traditions
  • Intersectional practices and perspectives
  • Writing, performing, teaching