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  • PART IV: Adulthood and Maturity / 1990s–Present (Volume 52, Number 3, through Volume 80, Numbers 2 and 3)

Editor's Note: In this and all subsequent introductions, citations for The News Letter and The CEA Critic will appear in parentheticals as (e.g. 4.7.3)


With this section, we arrive at the flaw in my using Erik Erikson's stages of development to characterize the 80 years of The CEA Critic because the final stage is, after all, death. However, for anyone who has been to recent meetings of the CEA, which will celebrate its own 50th anniversary this spring, or surveyed the pages of the conference proceedings issues, it is clear that the organization is thriving. So, too, is The CEA Critic.

During the 1990s and the 2000s, The CEA Critic settled comfortably into its own skin as a site for discussion about the profession from all angles and all points of view. The 1990s began with a provocative essay, followed by a gently chiding editorial, from co-editor Barbara Brothers. That essay, reprinted in this issue, boldly asserted, "My experience as a beginning editor has only reinforced my perception that as professionals writing for scholarly publication we are narcissistic—less concerned with being read than with being published, less concerned with assisting our readers to understand our message than with sounding learned." Brothers further explained the challenge of producing a journal that pleases the diverse members of the CEA and readers of The CEA Critic, whose interests range "from freshman composition to graduate courses in critical theory, from rhetoric to third-world literature" (53.1.6). The present editors share Brothers' desire to encourage voices to participate in "the 'play' of humanistic inquiry and discourse" (53.1.6). In a subsequent Editor's Column, Brothers addressed the responses to her piece, many of which concurred with her conclusion that "too much of our writing is … not written to communicate with our colleagues who have also joined the College English Association" (53.2.1). To others who did not respond, she asked boldly and in bold face,

Why? What do you as readers want to see us publish in this journal? … As editors, what can we do to foster a dialogue among our readers? Should we have a response section in which readers respond to the articles? How can we help you to write about your special research interests for the larger audience of the College English Association?

(53.2.1) [End Page 281]

Brothers' questions are the same ones all editors of The CEA Critic have asked—and continue to ask—since 1938. In the early years of both The News Letter and The CEA Critic, letters to the editor were a substantial component on the content. Many of these letters were highly discursive—more essay than missives, really. Nonetheless, during the journal's formative decades, readers were not shy in offering suggestions, kudos, and criticism about the direction of a publication they saw as their very own. Indeed, the connection between the CEA, its members, and its journals has been fundamental to its life and success.

A Widening Mission

As The CEA Critic evolved from serving as an effective organ of the CEA to its place as a scholarly journal, it was up to each of the editors to establish the journal's identity. Although the responses to the queries above were "small" in number, they did suggest to the editors an appreciation for the diversity of articles and as well as the occasional special topics issues. Respondents preferred fewer canonical authors and more "author[s] or genre[s], such as the nonfiction essay, that ha[ve] received little scholarly attention" (53.3.1) The contents of the Spring/Summer 1991 issue reflect these preferences, and the editors note that alongside essays on canonical figures (Shakespeare and Poe) are those on more recent and radical voices, including Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood. Almost twenty years later, the present moment feels in many ways like Atwood's; therefore, in addition to Atwood's essay in memory of Northrop Frye, in this issue we include Jeanne Campbell Reesman's essay, "Dark Knowledge in The...


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