The weekend of Nov. 1-2 was hectic yet exhilarating for Beth Anish, a PhD student in English at URI and an Assistant Professor at CCRI. Beth hosted the 2013 New England Regional Meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies, which drew scholars from the entire eastern seaboard to the CCRI venue in Warwick, RI. As the conference theme Beth chose “the hybridity of Irish culture in Ireland or in diaspora.”
Two of the conference participants were URI PhD students Charles Kell, who gave a paper titled “’This spawning of multiple selves’: Slippery Notions of Identity, Memory, and Irish Hybridity in John Banville’s The Newton Letter,” and Kara Watts, who presented “A ‘Scissors and Paste Man’: Toward a Plagiarized Irish Identity in Joyce’s Ulysses.”
Participants were treated to keynote speakers Michael Patrick MacDonald, writer of a New York Times bestselling memoir; James Silas Rogers, director of the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies and editor of New Hibernia Review; and Áine Greaney, writer of four novels including Dance Lessons (2011). Conference panel topics ranged from Irish Americans and comic strips, to silenced writing of women and of illnesses, to the “golden age” of Irish music, and Irish history through fiction.
To find out more about her experience at the helm of the conference, we went directly to Beth Anish:
Could you describe your experience hosting the conference? What goes into chairing?
I have likened hosting this conference to two things: running a marathon and planning a wedding. It took a full year of advance planning to work out all of the details, from coming up with a theme and writing a Call for Papers, to booking facilities and ordering meals, to inviting speakers and reading paper proposals, and finally to creating a program of events. As with the wedding and the marathon running, the preparation was most of the work, and the event itself seemed to fly by. It was worth the exhaustive effort that went into hosting. It was the experience of a lifetime, and such a boost to my career, both within my institution of CCRI, and in the wider Irish Studies community.
How did you envision the theme of hybridity, and how did this work out in panels and speakers?
I come at hybridity as someone interested in the literature of immigrants and their descendants. Immigrants and their children and grandchildren are, in many ways, caught between two cultures. Their identities are hybrids of what they choose to remember or embrace from their ancestral homelands, and the cultural influences of the receiving country. I realized in writing the theme and the Call for Papers, however, that there are many different ways of looking at hybridity in the homeland as well. No country exists in isolation; each country has been influenced from the start by neighbors, and by people coming and going, so I find there are endless possibilities to consider.
The plenary speakers I invited all addressed that hybridity of being between two countries in a way. Memoirist Michael Patrick MacDonald is the grandson of Irish immigrants, who grew up in Irish South Boston; Áine Greaney is an expatriate Irishwoman writing in the U.S. and just coming to an awareness in her work of her dual identity. James Silas Rogers has as his main area of research Irish-American memoir, and the concept of Ireland as “home” therein. Essentially, I invited speakers who tackled issues I will be grappling with in my own work, especially in my dissertation. That was one great benefit of hosting! I was able to bring in some of my primary sources and have them speak to me and the rest of the attendees.
As for the individual papers presented in panels, I loved seeing how everyone found their own spin on hybridity, some dealing with immigrant writing as I do, others with the concept of hybridity in Ireland. I was especially excited when people took the hybridity idea in directions I hadn’t even considered, including textual hybridity in Kara’s paper, and hybridity of disciplines in the papers on reading history through literature and vice-versa.
What was one of the conference highlights for you?
I have a hard time narrowing it to one highlight. I enjoyed all of the plenary talks, by Michael, Áine, and Jim, along with the plenary panel on Irish cultural initiatives in Rhode Island. Because the whole group (about 70 attendees in total) was there for the plenary sessions, I could also be there. I thought they were all fantastic. I had a harder time attending the breakout sessions because I was being pulled in so many different directions as host, so the only downside to hosting is that I missed most of those.