C21 Literature Special Issue: The Century at 25
Posted by Dr Caroline Edwards on 2024-01-18

The twenty-first century is nearly a quarter done. The contemporary – that category which has so often been theorised, following Barthes and Agamben, as fundamentally out of step with its own time – is starting to synchronise its watch with the temporal bounds of the current century.

Despite a flurry of critical efforts to name, characterise, and categorise the paradigm shifts of the present in the early years of the new century (see, for instance, McLaughlin 2004; Kirkby 2009; Vermeulen and van den Akker 2010, 2015; Moraru 2010; Nealon 2012), twenty-first-century literature has continued to evade attempts to fit it with an ‘ism’. If the century began with a pre-emptive critical effort towards fixing a label on the literature of the present this was, as much as anything, an ‘attempt to register [the] extension/rejection of the postmodern’ (Bentley, Hubble and Wilson 2015). James and Seshagiri have described how twenty-first-century writers ‘extend, reanimate, and repudiate twentieth-century modernist literature’ (2014), while Shaw and Upstone (2021) have offered theoretical assessments of the contemporary that strive to depart from recursions towards modernism and postmodernism. Now, as we head to the quarter-century, are we able to think about the period’s literature in new terms?

A view from 2025 may also inspire some reflection on our own discipline and its methods. The twentieth century produced the discipline of literary studies coevally with literary modernism, and the readers and critics of 1925 had not only seen the publication of The Waste Land, Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway but also I. A. Richards’ Principles of Literary Criticism. Reflecting on twenty-first-century literature and its study therefore raises questions about the relationship between the discipline and that originary moment of movement-making. Have we learnt from the twentieth century to avoid that inescapable centre of gravity constructed by defining the century’s literature from its inception? Or do we feel that our discipline now is embattled, not trying to build its own canon and methods, but instead trying to defend them?

For this special issue of C21 we invite essays which consider literature in all its forms in order to investigate the writing of the twenty-first century. We are also keen to see work which reflects on literary study and method in the present. Is there still an appetite for trying to name or periodise the present literary moment? Who has been excluded from these definitional activities through discrimination, through exclusion, through precarity? What is the century’s literature at 25?

We invite contributions to this special issue in two forms:

  • First, essays of approximately 8000 words, which might explore the following:
  • the global twenty-first century
  • the postcolonial and neocolonial twenty-first century
  • the century and the anthropocene
  • millennial literature, gen z, and generationality
  • YA and coming of age with the century
  • literature and the twenty-first century’s digital cultures
  • literary forms of/in the twenty-first century
  • the institutions (universities, publishers, platforms) of twenty-first-century literature

Please submit abstracts of ~500 words to c21-spcoll@olh.pub by midnight on Friday 26th April 2024.

Second, book reviews, either of recent publications relevant to conceptualising twenty-first-century literature or retrospective essays which discuss critical works that have set out to present a definition of twenty-first-century writing. We especially welcome multi-book reviews. 

Please contact our reviews editors Denise Wong <denise.wong@qmul.ac.uk> and Oliver Haslam <O.Haslam@lboro.ac.uk> to develop a review idea.

Submission and Publication Timeline

  • Abstracts deadline: 26 April 2024
  • Invitations/rejections: May 2024
  • Full drafts deadline: October 2024
  • Accept/reject: December 2024
  • Revisions due: Feb 2025
  • Publication: Autumn 2025

Publishing in C21

C21: Journal of 21st-century Writings is the official affiliated journal of the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS). The journal is dedicated to examining the genres, forms of publication, and circulation of 21st-century writings. Originally launched in 2012, and open access since 2016, C21 aims to create a critical, discursive space for the promotion and exploration of 21st-century writings in English. It addresses a range of narratives in contemporary culture, from the novel, poem and play to hypertext, digital gaming and contemporary creative writing. The journal features engaged theoretical pieces alongside new unpublished creative works and investigates the challenges that new media present to traditional categorisations of literary writing.

C21 is a Diamond Open Access journal, published by the Open Library of the Humanities. It provides immediate access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge. Authors of published articles remain the copyright holders and grant third parties the right to use, reproduce, and share the article according to a Creative Commons license agreement.

Works Cited:

Bentley, Nick, Nick Hubble, and Leigh Wilson. The 2000s: A Decade of Contemporary British Fiction. Bloomsbury, 2015.

James, David and Urmila Seshagiri. “Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution.” PMLA 129, no. 1 (2014): 87–100. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24769423.

Kirby, Alan. Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure our Culture. Bloomsbury, 2009.

McLaughlin, Robert L. "Post-postmodern Discontent: Contemporary Fiction and the Social World." symplokē 12.1/2 (2004): 53-68.

Moraru, Christian. Cosmodernism: American Narrative, Late Globalization, and the New Cultural Imaginary. University of Michigan Press, 2010.

Nealon, Jeffrey T. Post-postmodernism; Or, The Cultural Logic of Just-in-Time Capitalism. Stanford University Press, 2012.

Shaw, Kristian and Sara Upstone. ‘The Transglossic: Contemporary Fiction and the Limitations of the Modern’. English Studies 102, no. 5 (2021): 573-600. 10.1080/0013838X.2021.1943894.

Vermeulen, Timotheus, and Robin Van Den Akker. "Notes on metamodernism." Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2.1 (2010): 5677.

—. “Misunderstandings and Clarifications”. Metamodernism. 3 June 2015, accessed 12 Dec 2023 <https://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/03/misunderstandings-and-clarifications/>

Featured image by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.


C21 call for papers   21st century   the contemporary