ALS-MLA General Information ALS-MLA General Information

American Literature Section

General Information

What is the American Literature Section?

The American Literature Section of the MLA is a community of scholars, teachers, and students of American literature and culture. The Section sponsors the journal American Literature and the annual volume American Literary Scholarship, both of which are published by Duke University Press. The Section coordinates two plenary sessions and an awards ceremony with cash-bar reception at the annual MLA Convention, and is linked to the MLA's American literature divisions. The Section offers professional exchange on the teaching and researching of American literature, collegial support, and opportunities for the mentoring of graduate students and junior colleagues who face the academic and non-academic job markets. The Section also sponsors the Hubbell prize for lifetime achievement in American literature and the Foerster prize for the best essay published in the journal American Literature that year.

The American Literature Section is by far the largest of the constituent parts of the MLA.


Membership in the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association is open to all who are eligible for membership in the MLA but involves separate membership fees and registration. (For membership in the MLA proper, see its website.)

Membership in ALS includes the following benefits: a one-year subscription to American Literature, a copy of the annual hardbound American Literary Scholarship, electronic access to back volumes of American Literature through JSTOR, as well as electronic access to American Literary Scholarship, beginning with the 1998 edition, through Ingenta. Membership also includes the opportunity to influence the course of scholarly studies in American literature, since the board of American Literature and its editor must be approved by a vote of the Section's members. Members also annually elect the Section chair and members of its advisory council.

Joining the American Literature Section

To join the ALS, visit the following page on the Duke University Press website: American Literature Section. (Membership will be described as a "subscription" for the press's purposes, since it involves subscriptions to two periodicals.)

The Activities of the American Literature Section

The ALS-MLA carries out its mission in several ways:

American Literature

The American Literature Section elects the editorial board of American Literature and approves the appointment of the editor, who is always a member of the faculty of Duke University. American Literature is beyond question the flagship journal in the field. It has won many prizes, including an award for the Best Special Issue of 1998 from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. Its editors and contributors have included some of the most distinguished scholars in American literature. The current editor is Priscilla Wald.

American Literary Scholarship

American Literary Scholarship reviews and evaluates the vast amount of scholarly work on American literature each year. Experts on the major American authors and on the various periods of American writing report on the scholarly work in each field.

Jay B. Hubbell Award

For more than thirty years, the American Literature Section has presented a medal to a scholar whose lifetime of scholarly work has significantly advanced the study of American literature. Recipients of the Hubbell Award, named for Jay B. Hubbell, the founding editor of American Literature, include Willard Thorp, Henry Nash Smith, Gay Wilson Allen, Cleanth Brooks, Malcolm Cowly, Robert Penn Warren, Alfred Kazin, R. W. B. Lewis, Leon Edel, Richard Poirier, Leslie Fiedler, Nina Baym, Paul Lauter, Sacvan Bercovitch, Houston A. Baker, Jr., Frances Smith Foster, and many other influential scholars.

Foerster Prize

The ALS also presents the Norman Foerster Prize for the best essay published annually in American Literature.

MLA Convention Sessions

At each annual convention of the Modern Language Association, the American Literature Section sponsors two sessions, which are invariably among the best-attended and influential meetings at the convention. The 2011 convention, held in Los Angeles, CA, was no exception. The first session, entitled "Literature, Wars and the American Body," featured papers by Adrian Khactu, Daniel Young-Hoon Kim, and Susan Muchshima Moynihan. Paul Y. Lai presided over this session. The second session, which was entitled "The Archive and the Aesthetic: Methodologies of American Literary Studies," featured papers by Nancy Glazener, Maurice Sherwood Lee, and John Funchion. Elizabeth Maddock Dillon presided over this session.

Coordination of MLA American Literature Divisions

The American Literature Section also coordinates the work of the seven MLA divisions that study American literature: American Literature to 1800; Nineteenth-Century American Literature; Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century American Literature; Twentieth-Century American Literature; Black American Literature and Culture; American Indian Literature; Asian American Literature, and Chicana/Chicano Literature.

Organization and Officers

The American Literature Section is presided over by an advisory council. Six of its members are elected directly by the members of the section, two each year for staggered three-year terms. One of the elected council members in the last year of his or her term is elected chair of the section each year. The advisory council also includes the executive coordinator, who is elected by the section; the chairs of the seven MLA American literature divisions, who are elected through the MLA's annual ballot; and, ex officio, the editor of American Literature. The advisory council must approve the selection of the editor of American Literature, who serves a five-year term, and appoints, with the approval by ballot of the section as a whole, five members each year to the American Literature editorial board. (The board members serve staggered three-year terms.) The chair appoints, for various terms, the members of the Hubbell Award and Foerster Prize committees, as well as the members of the advisory council's nominating subcommittee and any ad hoc committees that may be needed to carry out the section's work.

The American Literature Section's operations are governed by its "Articles of Organization," first adopted in 1947 and most recently amended in 2008, and its "Articles of Cooperation with Duke University," which describes the responsibilities of the section, the university, and Duke University Press towards American Literature.