Bryan’s initial interest in Dos Passos was sparked as a graduate student when she took a Modern American Novelist course taught by Shaheen.
“We read Dos Passos’s 42nd Parallel, and I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard this man’s name before, much less read any of his work.” Bryan
said, “Here was a writer tuned into the class and race struggles of the early 20th century, and though there are a few problems with how he represents women and minorities scattered throughout his work, he was leaps and bounds ahead of his contemporaries when it came to more complex and interesting understandings of characters who weren’t white males.”As Bryan went on to complete her PhD, her interest in Dos Passos persisted. In 2011 she organized a Dos Passos Panel at the American Literature Association Convention in Boston, MA. Shaheen presented as one of the speakers. It was at this conference that the two were inspired to create the John Dos Passos Society.
In October 2014, UTC hosted the first biennial conference, which featured the author’s grandson, John Dos Passos Coggin, as its keynote speaker.
Ever since Dos Passos’s novel Manhattan Transfer (1925) was translated into Spanish in 1927, the author has been widely read in Spain and other European countries. The international appreciation for his works has lasted to this day.
Ten different nations were represented at the 2014 conference, including Brazil, the United States, Portugal, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, and Spain. The conference received widespread coverage in the Spanish print and digital media, including
awrite-up in Spain’s leading daily newspaper, El Mundo.
She says: "Since our founding in 2011, we’ve grown astronomically. We held our first international conference in 2016, and our membership has grown to almost 100 people. We’re represented at the American Literature Association on a regular basis, and we’re able to sponsor panels at various regional conferences.
She hopes the Boston conference this May will be an invigorating event marked by complex conversation about Dos Passos’s work and legacy.
She adds: "I always enjoy our teaching panels. They introduce so many avenues for bringing Dos Passos into the classroom, which may be one of the most powerful ways to bring an author’s work to a new generation. ''
At a previous conference in Chattanooga, she presented a paper on Dos Passos’s involvement with prison writing and representations of prison during the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
"As I’ve continued researching the topic, I have things I’d certainly change about the paper, but the idea that Dos Passos struggled with how the U.S. prison system worked, particularly in relation to political prisoners, was a huge takeaway from my time in the Dos Passos archives at the University of Virginia in 2014. I was excited to be able to present on those findings, she says.
What was the last article or book by Dos Passos that she read and why?
''I’ve been re-reading the archival documents from UVA on prisons, particularly those that relate to Eugene Debs’ imprisonment, which Dos Passos seems to have been particularly troubled by. (In a somewhat related vein, I’ve been reading Eugene Debs’ Walls and Bars about his political beliefs, his prison time, and his run for Presidential office while incarcerated.) I’m hoping to develop my ideas about Dos Passos and prison writing further for more lengthy writing projects.''
"Dos Passos wrote very passionately about political freedom, and was adamantly opposed to the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. His writing about these topics is powerful. I’ve often used his poem published in The New Masses “They Are Dead Now” in writing and lit classes in prison and in the free world to demonstrate that writing by and about incarcerated people deserves a place in our canon."
When asked what new books she'd recommend and why, she said:
" I’m currently reading Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last. It’s about a devastating financial recession that leads to many losing their homes and livelihoods. The solution to this problem is to allow people to move into posh neighborhoods that have been abandoned, but they only get to live there half the year. The other half of the time they have to live in the local prison. It sounds so dystopian, but for many in our country and around the world, this isn’t so far from reality."