Shoptalk: Overheard at MLA 2018

Literary critics that managed the trek to this year’s Modern Language Association conference descended into a professional circle of hell: the convention was held in ...

Literary critics that managed the trek to this year’s Modern Language Association conference descended into a professional circle of hell: the convention was held in New York’s Times Square at the tail end of the holiday season in the midst of a winter bomb cyclone. When not navigating inaccessible streets bloated with tourists, listening to someone ask a “question that’s more of a comment” in unheated rooms, and being badgered about badges, they had quite a bit to say.


1. “There’s MLA style, then there’s MLA style, am I right?!”

2. “Should I attend this talk or go back to my room and watch another episode of The Crown?”

3. “AHA [the American Historical Association] had themed drinks at their conference this year. We chose the wrong profession.”

4. “The panel was running overtime so I left to play HQ Trivia. And then I lost.”

5. “We should really get back to fundraising instead of social media. Hashtag we have no money.”

6. “I wish my flight had been cancelled. Then I wouldn’t have to write this paper.”

7. “Coco didn’t make me cry, but I’m on a new antidepressant.”

8. “I don’t think anyone says ‘gay’ anymore.”

9. “I can only afford to drink alcohol from Duane Reade.”

10. Person 1: “There are two different Leonard Cohen panels.”

Person 2: “Two? What, did he die?”

Person 1: “… Yes.”

11. “The badge check is intense, but it’s not as bad as when they wouldn’t let Angela Davis into her keynote at the National Women’s Association conference in 1982.”

12. “I was liking her, then she said she loved MLA and I had to politely walk away.”

13. Person 1: “I basically spent all of today’s panels booking my travels for the C19 conference.”

Person 2: “Didn’t you spend all of ASA finalizing your travels for this conference?”

14. “I thought my interview went well, then I left and realized my fly was down.”

15. Person 1: “I like to hop from Shakespeare’s sonnets to Gwendolyn Brooks’ sonnets.”

Person 2: “Ah! Boing! Boing!”

Person 1: “I said hop. Not spring.”

16. Person 1: “I have over two hundred publications, if you count everything.”

Person 2: “I’ve been married to you for 40 years. I know how many publications you have.”

Person 1: “You can stop counting anytime you like.”

Many thanks to SaraEllen Strongman and Omari Weekes for their overhearing assistance! icon