Call for Proposals - Reconsidering ROOTS

Reconsidering Roots: The Phenomenon that Changed the Way We Understood American Slavery

Guest editors: Erica L. Ball and Kellie Carter Jackson

When the television series Roots premiered in 1977, Americans across the United States tuned in to watch the story of an enslaved African American family’s continuing quest for freedom. Not only did the eight-part series exceed all expectations for ratings, but the drama garnered 37 Emmy nominations, ultimately winning nine. With over 100 million viewers tuning in to watch the finale, Roots became the most-watched television event of its day, and secured a place in television history. Roots put names, faces, and histories to what had too often been a monolithic block only referred to as “slaves,” forcing viewers to consider, or reconsider the meaning of “the peculiar institution” and its enduring impact on American culture. In some respects, however, Roots may obscure certain complexities, and even reinforce its own set of myths about the history of slavery in the United States.

With the 40th anniversaries of the novel and the television series fast approaching, we feel that the time is ripe to consider the impact and continuing significance of this cultural phenomenon. In remembering Roots, how can the public gain greater insight into the social-political context of its debut, and understanding of its contemporary resurgence as a classic on black television? This special issue on Roots aims to deconstruct how this TV mini-series both complicated and simplified our understanding of American slavery, and to explore the remarkable tenacity of the film’s visual, cultural, and political impact on America and abroad. We seek essays that interrogate the historical impact of Roots, as well as those that assess its place in contemporary U.S. culture. We are particularly interested in topics that examine Roots in the Age of Obama or Roots’ reception outside of the United States.

We will also consider full submissions of short fiction, poetry, and original artwork on the theme. Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words between now and December 1, 2015 to Erica L. Ball (California State University, Fullerton) at and Kellie Carter Jackson (Hunter College) at, Those invited to send full submissions will be notified by January 2016.  Completed essays should be between 2500-6000 words and will be due April 1st 2016.  Invitation to submit is not a guarantee of publication.  

A note on style: We expect nonfiction pieces published in Transition to display the virtues of high-quality literary fiction, especially narrative prose, which leads the reader naturally from one sentence to the next. Rich description and attention to voice, tone, imagery, and word choice are all appreciated. We also welcome provocative points of view that stimulate debate. Please see Transition’s full submission guidelines, and our online archive of sample articles, when crafting your proposal.

As a nonacademic journal, Transition does not run footnotes or give strict bibliographic documentation for the ideas expressed in our essays. Academic clichés, locutions, and jargon should be avoided. All participants should familiarize themselves with published articles in the open access archive on the Transition website, or to read a recent issue (available on JSTOR) to gain a sense of both the content and style that we seek. Contributors should also expect to revise after Editorial review. More information, with genre-specific guidelines, can be found here

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