Sean McCann, Wesleyan University | Newberry

Sean McCann, Wesleyan University

Thursday, February 26, 2015

5:30 pm - 7:30 pm*


Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Literature Seminar

“A Theatre and a Battleground: Professions of Childhood in New York of the 1940s”
Sean McCann, Wesleyan University

The literary expression and photography of New York City in the 1940s often featured visions of children and adolescents wandering the streets of the metropolis free of adult supervision. This paper considers that phenomenon in light of three related contexts: the rapidly changing political economy of the city during and just after the War years; related changes in the political environment and social discourse; and the evolving structures of professional vocation for literary and photographic artists. The image of the child alone in the city, the paper argues, became a powerful index of the shifting fortunes of social democratic politics and a compelling model of the status of the artist who sought to negotiate large-scale public and private bureaucracies in the mid-century U.S. Among others, the paper discusses the work of James Agee, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Alfred Kazin, Helen Levitt, Gordon Parks, Betty Smith, Jean Stafford, Lionel Trilling, and Richard Wright.

*Please note this session begins at 5:30.

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.