The Delta Symposium is an annual conference sponsored by the Department of English, Philosophy, and World Languages at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County). The symposium welcomes multidisciplinary submissions and presentations dealing with the Mississippi Delta region; of particular interest are submissions that engage the question of the Delta’s culture, arts, and lifestyles, and their effect upon the blues.
The Delta Symposium was created in 1994 as a conference that would appeal to both the general public and the academic community. First organized under the name of the Delta Studies Symposium, this changed when it became evident that the genre of the blues offered the most wide-ranging and multidisciplinary topic for exploration. A committee composed of faculty members of ASU manages the conference each year. It was organized under Dr. William Clements, a folklorist and professor in the Department of English and Philosophy, who directed the symposium from its inception through 1996, when it was taken over by Dr. Richard Burns, also an associate professor in the same department. He oversaw the committee from 1996 to 1998. Dr. Clements and Dr. Frances Malpezzi returned to oversee the committee from 1999 to 2006, at which point Burns and Dr. Thomas Williams, an assistant professor of English, oversaw it until 2008. Burns assumed sole responsibility for overseeing and organizing the yearly event in 2008. After the 2010 event, the name was changed to Delta Symposium to emphasize a focus beyond the blues.
The symposium takes place at ASU over a three-day period. Highlights include a keynote address, usually presented by a relevant expert, and panel discussions by scholars and students dealing with Delta-centered issues. However, the event is more than an academic conference, for it regularly features presentations and performances by noteworthy fiction writers, poets, artists, and musicians representative of life in the Delta. Notable fiction writers who have been a part of the Delta Symposium in the past include Lewis Nordan, Ellen Douglas, Scott Ely, and Jack Butler. Other artists specializing in various media who have appeared include poets Natasha Trethewey, Jo McDougall, Sterling Plumpp, and Michael Harper; visual artists James Fraher, David Rae Morris, and Maude Schuyler Clay; and musicians Alvin Youngblood Hart, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Kenny Neal, Little Milton, and Billy Lee Riley.
For additional information:
Clements, William M. “Delta Sources & Resources: The Delta Symposia.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 31 (April 2000): 59–61.
Delta Symposium. http://altweb.astate.edu/blues/ (accessed April 12, 2022).
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