The University of Rhode Island English department has hosted the Ocean State Writing Conference for the last eleven years. This distinguished event is planned and coordinated yearly by the creative writing faculty, Mary Cappello, Peter Covino, Derek Nikitas, Jody Lisberger, the conference director, the wonderful Tina Egnoski this year, and the conference administrative director, Michelle Carraccia. In addition, many graduate students volunteer each year with both the preparation and in helping the conference run smoothly for attendees, from registration to cleaning up after workshops and panels. This year we asked several of the graduate students who volunteered and attended workshop sessions with our featured writers about their experiences.
Each year I attend the annual conference for the Society for Comparative Literature and the Arts. It is a medium-sized, incredibly supportive and welcoming event. Their support for graduate students, non-tenured and adjunct faculty, and independent scholars shows a deep commitment to both the humanities in general and an acknowledgment of the disparities and challenges that face the discipline. Thus, it was not surprising to see on this year’s conference schedule showed a special roundtable, “Making Our Departments and Disciplines Less Oppressive.” The roundtable was intended to address the ways in which the current climate in the U.S. was affecting not only departments, but students at various institutions, and to hopefully offer some ideas and suggestions on how we might better support colleagues and students at our own institutions.
The 2017 Northeast Modern Language Association meeting in Baltimore, MD offered many opportunities for members of the URI English Department to share their work and engage with other scholars from the northeast region. Participants included faculty, and students past and present. Our representatives presented on a wide variety of subjects from high school vampires to Shakespeare.
The URI English Graduate Students chaired and co-chaired 8 sessions on topics including Global Crime Fiction, Reading in Victorian Fiction, Collaborative Authorship, Globalized Romanticism and Turkish Literature. Third year PhD student and Graduate Faculty Liaison Jenna Guitar participated in a special session to mark the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her talk, “Buffy Summers: She Saved the World and Pedagogy a Lot,” examined the pedagogical legacy of Buffy as a forerunner of popular culture on the college classroom that has remained relevant twenty years after its initial airing. Fifth year PhD student Ashton Foley organized and presented on a panel representing her dissertation research on reading and readers in Victorian novels. The URI international community was represented by Graduate students Serap Hidir and Xinqiang Chang
URI alumna Nancy Caronia, who received her doctorate from the English program 2015, was honored as a recipient of the NeMLA Summer Research Fellowship. Caronia used the fellowship funding to work with Italian Diaspora Summer Seminar at the University of Calabria on her current research on Italian American communities and dime novels. Her poster session, titled “Transnational Passages: Italian American and Italian Women’s Literary Traditions” was showcased along with three other fellowship recipients in a special session at the conference.
Also of note was a reading by Jody Lisberger, URI Associate Professor in Creative Writing and author. Lisberger read from her piece “The Beast Down Under” as part of a panel on animal imagery in contemporary fiction. The session, titled “The Coyote in the Parking Lot: Writers Invoking Animals in an Increasingly Wild World” was sponsored by Kaya Press.
The Northeast Modern Language Association 2018 conference will be held in Pittsburgh April 12-15th. The conference theme is “Global Spaces, Local Landscapes and Imagined Worlds.” While the deadline for proposing a session has passed, abstracts are due Sept. 30th, 2017. You can submit your abstracts here: https://www.buffalo.edu/nemla/convention.html
This past weekend I attended the annual meeting for the Society of Comparative Literature and the Arts. In addition to chairing a panel and participating in the requisite conference mingling (I didn’t present a paper this year), I was also invited to host a special workshop.
SCLA is a wonderful organization I’ve been involved with for quite some time and the annual conference is one of the most low-key and supportive conferences I’ve attended. As such, it attracts a good number of graduate students, and even some undergrads—one year we even had an entire undergrad panel. Because of this, for many this is one of their first, if not their first, conference. What many of us who have been conferencing for a while, and feel comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people, forget is that the conference paper—taking it from term paper, to conference paper, to presentation—is a unique and sometimes strange genre. The workshop, Crafting the Conference Paper, was set up to take new or inexperienced conference presenters and walk them through the steps one takes to make a conference paper successful. (Or to simply remind veteran presenters of the fundamentals J )
I was very excited about this idea, as it is often something that is left unaddressed—one simply writes a paper, sends in an abstract, gets accepted, cuts the paper down to length, then reads it in front of a group of people, right? And yet, those of us who have been to conferences can attest to how often the conference paper goes wrong. This workshop was an attempt to lay out explicitly how one takes a written paper, to a conference paper, to a presentation.
The first part of the workshop focused on editing the written document. I know I myself have been guilty of taking a paper I’ve written, cutting it down to 12 pages, and saying “Done! Ready for the conference!” and putting this presentation together was a great reminder as to why that is the wrong way to go. The way we write papers does not often translate smoothly into a swepoken presentation. Because your audience is listening and not reading, organization, signposting, and transitions are absolutely critical. We went over how even strategies that might seem overly simplistic in written work, are actually very successful in a presentation. Things like “I argue,” “there are three main points I’ll be covering,” “my first example is” are useful for listeners to more clearly follow what you are arguing. We also discussed that it is important to think about how one integrates quotes. In a written work, they are, of course, indicated by quotation marks. But when you read your paper, you need to think about what you’re going to do with those. If the paper is quote heavy, saying “quote/end quote” over and over can become distracting and tedious for the listening. We talked about a number of other editing issues, then moved on to the presentation itself.
While many of the presentation suggestions seem like common sense—sit up straight, project, make eye contact—we sometimes forget these simple strategies. Also, the conference paper has added components. Where are you going to hold your paper? Will
you lay it on the table? What does that do to your posture? Will you read it on a computer or laptop? How will you navigate the pages?
The discussion session was lively, with people asking questions, sharing their own strategies, or anecdotes where they were in the audience during a presentation that went
wrong so we could brainstorm how to avoid similar mistakes. The handout was a topic of great interest. Most people noted that they had rarely encountered a handout that actually added something valuable to the presentation, more often they seemed to simply distract the listener, giving them something to read while the presenter was speaking. Extemporizing was also something several people wanted to examine. How and when to speak extemporaneously? How can you insert “planned” extemporaneous sections to make your presentation connect more with the audience without rambling and eating up your time?
Overall, this workshop was extremely rewarding and, even though I was leading it and planned our topics of discussion, it was a great reminder to me to not get lazy with my presentations, and to conscientiously approach every conference paper with my audience clearly in mind. The turnout also exceeded my expectations, and everyone was engaged and ready to discuss and do work. I think this indicates that there is a real interest in special sessions like these, where graduate students can gather and hone their craft in an informal and welcoming environment.
More info on SCLA can be found here: http://complit-scla.org/
This April, I attended the first International Girls Studies Association Conference (IGSA) in Norwich, UK. Having immersed myself in Girls Studies for the past several years as part of my dissertation research, this conference felt like academic paradise.
The conference opened with a keynote by Catherine Driscoll, a leading scholar in the field who authored the book Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory. In her keynote “The Girl: Dynamics of Anxiety and Reassurance,” she discussed how the girl is both “fantasy” and “fact.” She noted how anxieties about girls are fixed within historical and cultural contexts. For example, she argued how she believes the current fourth-wave of feminism is nearly “an exclusively digital event.” Quite interestingly, Driscoll returned to Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex as a lens for re-thinking girlhood. What I was most excited to hear in Driscoll’s talk was her emphasis that “leaving the figure of the girl open to anxious irresolution may be more productive than….proliferating attempts to formulate reassuringly certain answers.”
In her talk, Driscoll also critiqued terms that are often employed in Girls Studies like neoliberalism and post-feminism, arguing that these words have simply come to mean something “bad” that “we don’t like” and that they have lost their specificity through overuse. Of course, this comment resonated throughout the conference—and anyone who had used the words post-feminism or neoliberalism in their paper (or in some cases, their title) felt the need to defend or acknowledge the term. (I have to admit, I was glad to find neither of these words in my own paper when I went to check).
Although I attended three conferences in a month, the IGSA Conference was the only one I attended for the entire duration, due partially to a Richard Beaupre Hope & Heritage Fund grant and a travel grant from the Graduate Assistants Union. Over the course of the three-day conference, I went from panel to panel, hearing dozens of papers.
Some highlights included:
Melinda Luisa de Jesús in her paper “Re/Constructing girlhood: Transgender girls in girls studies” posed the question, “What would a trans-inclusive non-binary girls’ studies look like?” She referenced several of her own students’ work making handmade ‘zines, which is something I will definitely be using in future classes. The link to her presentation is online (including some of the ‘zine samples) at http://prezi.com/ozfkvyqfxxlc/
New York school teacher Ileana Jimenez (feministteacher.com) spoke as part of the Plenary Session “Pedagogies of Girlhood: Schools, Feminism, and Media” calling the conference a “historic” moment, not only because of how it has brought together girl studies scholars, but how it integrated the conversation with university scholars with feminist educators of girls, like herself.
Since as Driscoll had noted girls are both ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’, both real girls and imagined girls were the subject of conference presentations. Media scholar Sarah Projansky presented her paper “Finding gender in media franchising,” in which she investigated what trends emerge by looking closely at the highest grossing franchise films between 1990 and 2015, while Rosemary Carlton, from the University of Montreal, presented her paper “Failing to self-protect: Responsibilsation for risk in child protection practice with sexually abused teenage girls,” which outlined some of the complexities of agency and coercion emerging from her conversations with sexually abused girls who live under the government’s child’s protection laws in Canada.
Several scholars pondered how media and merchandising specifically affects girls, like Halliday’s paper “My anaconda feminism: Nicki Minaj, consumption and Twitter/Instagram (re)production”; Jessalynn Keller’s “#CropTopDay: Girls’ media activism as a challenge to normative girlhoods”; and Emily Aguilo-Perez’s “I hated her, she loved her! Barbie in intergenerational Puerto Rican girlhoods and familial relationships.”Aria
Others looked at girls’ production or critiques of media. Fiona Handyside, Danielle Hipkins and Alexandra Allan from the University of Exeter presented on a joint panel “What it feels like for a girl: Filming, girlhood and emotion,” in which they reported on their experiences encouraging girls to create their own media. They raised several important points, like the way that girlhood is “intensely local” while media is “transnational,” and key questions,
such as, what should we do when we feel girls are making their films not for themselves
One of my favorite presentations was “The (Un-) Making of a feminist cool girl: A cross-generational dialogue,” a conversation between feminist scholar Annalie Branstrom-Ohman from Umeå University, Sweden and her fashion model/writer daughter Amanda
Brohman. In their dialogue, mother and daughter presented their own unique views on what it means to be the ‘cool’ girl both in their own worlds—academia and fashion. Although their talk provided no pat answers, they raised crucial questions about if or how one can embody feminist choice.but for us? And Kirsten Pike in her paper “Complicating Second-Wave Feminist Media Histories: Girl writers and activists” looked closely at the diaries from 1968 to 1980 of feminist activist Trina Porte to show how we might sometimes overlook how girls are not only consumers but more consciously critics than we might suspect.
And then, of course, there was my own paper, “A Dangerous Girl or a Girl in Danger?: Shifting Sexual Agency of the ‘Long Island Lolita’” in which I look at the media narratives that emerged in the early 1990s about Amy Fisher, the seventeen-year-old girl who shot the wife of her lover Joey Buttafuoco. In the presentation, I show how narratives of the “dangerous girl” perpetrator or the “girl in danger” victim oversimplify the complexities of desire, consent and coercion embedded in Fisher’s story.
Certainly one of the highlights for me was meeting Mary Celeste Kearney, author of the book Girls Make Media, and having the opportunity to hear her review the impact of her book and where we go from here in her closing keynote “Girls Make Media: Then, Now, and So What?” Kearney’s talk highlighted how technological changes have offered new opportunities for girls to make and distribute their own media, while acknowledging that there still exists a dearth of women and girl filmmakers in both mainstream and independent cinema. Certainly, for me, it felt like a call to action, and I was glad that I already have another film in post-production and have been helping my nine-year-old daughter to make her own media as well.
For more information about the International Girls Studies Association, visit www.girls-studies.org.
Author Michele Meek’s most recent film Imagine Kolle 37 (www.kolle37.com) is in post-production, and she is finishing her dissertation Consent Puzzles: Locating Girls’ Sexual Agency in Narrative Ambiguities of Literature and Film of the 1990s. For more information about her, visit www.michelemeek.com.
On April, 9th, 2016 the Department of English hosted the 10th Annual URI Graduate Conference. This year’s theme was “Trans(form): New Insights and New Directions,” a topic chosen by the Conference Committee with the intent to highlight interdisciplinarity and encourage students from every research field to contribute. According to the co-chairs, PhD students Jenna Guitar and Serap Hidir, transdisciplinarity was utilized “to help us think beyond the borders of disciplines while also allowing graduate students from any discipline to participate.” That is exactly what happened this year, with the theme of transdiciplinarity explored through the lens of chemistry, engineering, sociology, geosciences, psychology, literature, philosophy, and media. Transcultural. Transect. Transition. Transcend. Translation. Transportation. Transfuse. Transplant. Transformation.
With more than 100 participants, over 30 panel sessions, 3 roundtables, and 15 posters presented, GradCon2016 can be defined as a huge success. Graduate students not only from Rhode Island but from the east coast to Canada reached URI to participate and present their research: 16 different universities were represented, Salve Regina University, University of New Hampshire, Hofstra University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, and many others.
Paul Bueno de Mesquita, professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island and director of the URI Center for Nonviolence & Peace, was the plenary speaker. His inspiring lecture titled “Eclectic Visionary Synthesis: The Transformative Power of Kingian Thinking,” opened the proceedings.
Paisley Currah, professor of political sciences and women’s & gender studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at CUNY, concluded this year’s GradCon with a lecture titled “Transgender Beside Itself: Paradigms, Paradoxes, and Other Exemplary Subjects.” His lecture was the perfect conclusion for such an intense one-day conference. Professor Currah, who is also a co-founding editor of Transgender Studies Quarterly, discussed the notion of gender as a social, political construct, and described how apparent contradictions in sex classification policies reflect fragmented state projects.
The poster sessions – with their “inventiveness and possibilities” according to the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Jean Walton – highlighted the idea of transdisciplinary research, as presenters from humanities and sciences shared the same space and time, and used the same medium -the poster- to show the results of their academic work.
Participants reframed and reshaped the notion of transdisciplinarity by interacting, discussing, debating, and creating a vibrant exchange of ideas across disciplines in the spirit of what a graduate conference means. The presence of professors Stephen Barber, Peter Covino, and Jean Walton from URI’s Department of English strengthened the idea that URI GradCon is more than an occasion for presenting your work; it is the place for establishing an intellectual connection, and creating a positive, inspiring environment for the future of our research. Any research. In Biocultures Manifesto Davis and Morris made clear how interdisciplinarity has become a rule in academic research: sciences and humanities, biology and culture, have always interacted, interweaving their paths in many ways, but now –according to Davis and Morris – they are not considered as distant fields anymore. URI GradCon translated this concept into reality by creating an interdisciplinary
Thinking, inspiring and being inspired, reflecting, dialoguing. Brainstorming around a prefix. Trans(forming). Moving into new directions. Moving forward. GradCon 2017.and transdisciplinary space and place for scholars.
In August, The Lovecraft conference returned to Providence, RI in honor of H.P. Lovecraft’s 125th birthday. Sponsored by the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and the city of Providence, this year’s event was an exciting exploration of this author’s life and works. In addition to the symposium on new academic research, there were panels discussing literary analysis of weird fiction as well as its influence on popular culture, vendors with all manner of books and artwork, and exhibitions of Lovecraft-inspired art, theater, and film. I was first introduced to this wonderful conference two years ago.
In 2013 I presented an academic paper at the Howard Phillips Lovecraft academic conference and convention in Providence, Rhode Island. Having recently graduated with my Master’s degree, I was simultaneously filled with unbridled ambition and crippling anxiety; riding on the high of producing a Master’s thesis while unnerved at the prospect of being thrust out into the real world to mingle with accomplished scholars. The experience was invaluable in providing that first foray into the wide world of conferencing while helping me surmount my fear of venturing into the daunting unknown that is Academia.
For the uninitiated, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He spent most of his life in the College Hill district of the city where he wrote for pulp magazines including Weird Tales. His body of work is widely regarded as the pinnacle of weird fiction: a convergence of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.
In 2013, one of the largest Lovecraft conventions was held at the Providence Biltmore, which Lovecraft called “the sumptuous Biltmore Hotel, which is 18th century in every essential outline and decoration.” Affectionately termed NecronomiCon after a plot device used in Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror, the gathering was equal parts academic conference and outlet for weird fiction fandom. There were numerous panels featuring preeminent Lovecraft scholars including S.T. Joshi and Robert M. Price, as well as talks regarding Lovecraft’s lasting impact on film and television that featured renowned director Stuart Gordon.
Despite the celebrities of Lovecraft studies, my personal highlight was the Emerging Scholarship Symposium. This series of academic presentations was dedicated to various topics of Lovecraft scholarship. I presented a paper culled from my Master’s thesis research titled “Poe, Lovecraft, and ‘The Uncanny’: The Horror of the Self.” This essay posited a psychoanalytic interpretation of Lovecraft’s speculative fiction as a progression from that of Edgar Allan Poe where the narrative “self” becomes the locus of fractured and displaced identity. As the subconscious mind exists as alien or “other” to the conscious mind, characters (and particularly the narrators) of Poe and Lovecraft are external representations of internal dissonance. The self is its own primal source of terror, which inevitably evolves into self-loathing.
The Emerging Scholarship Symposium was an audacious forum for professional and amateur academics to present their research regarding the works of H.P. Lovecraft. There was some backlash regarding the designation of the event as one for “Emerging Scholarship” as several presenters were experienced academics with a wide array of published works on various topics not limited to weird fiction. This moment brought some humor and much needed humanity to the esoteric affair as the stuffy aura that sometimes plagues Academia was interrupted by the vaunted pride of the experienced scholars and the reckless abandon of the uninitiated, eager to have something (or anything) published. The panel has since been rechristened the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Scholarship Symposium, which is another whimsical reference to Lovecraft’s elaborate mythos of interconnecting characters and settings.
June 19-21 marked the 8th annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Annually, the University of Rhode Island’s Department of English brings together writers from across the spectrum of place and profession for three electric days of learning, networking and practice. From Harvard to UPenn, from RIC to Brown, from California to Florida, from Providence to Bristol, writers of all walks of life enjoy workshops, craft sessions and readings.
Besides the tremendously popular keynotes at this year’s gathering, from Alison Bechdel, Charles Bernstein and Percival Everett, certain events stood out as participant favorites.
Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar returned to the conference (after being a keynote speaker at the 2013 conference) and was met with great enthusiasm. One of his events was a conversation with Guggenheim Fellow and Professor Mary Cappello, where they addressed the “turning points” of their careers, their drive and their practice–to a standing room-only group of attendees. Of his former professor from his time as an undergraduate at SUNY/Buffalo, Akhtar has said that Cappello played a key role in shaping him as a writer.
Elaine Sexton and Kristin Prevallet also made a tremendous impact on their attendees. A conversation between the two during the penultimate time slot of the conference addressed a subject on the mind of anyone who has attended a conference before: “What now?” Sexton and Prevallet conversed on subjects like community building, networking, getting published, being employed–important questions, especially to poets. Their insight impacted the group as they both have worked extensively in a variety of fields.
National Book Award nominee and Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Jody Lisberger had one of the most well-attended events. Her craft session, “Writing or Wanting to Write a Novel or Book-Length Memoir–Strategies for Success” was held in the Agnes G. Doody Auditorium to a group of more than 70.
There were many talented and accomplished writers at the conference in June, and whether they were familiar with the conference from previous years or new to the University of Rhode Island, they contributed to a terrific experience for many of Rhode Island’s writers.
April 2-6, 2014, marked the 45th annual conference of the Northeast Modern Languages Association, held in Harrisburg, PA. Founded in 1967 and incorporated as part of the national MLA in 1969, NeMLA is a professional organization for English and Languages serving the northeast region of the US. The majority of NeMLA members are professors and graduate students from this region. This year, sixteen URI English department professors, alumni and graduate students participated in the conference as presenters, session organizers and session chairs.
Veteran NeMLA participant and current URI Ph.D. candidate Sara Murphy remarks, “As someone who [has] worked as a NeMLA fellow and has now presented at her third consecutive NeMLA conference, I can’t overemphasize what an important role this organization and conference has [had] in my academic life. Interacting with our current and former colleagues made the experience both professionally beneficial and personally pleasurable!” Murphy went on to highlight the level of involvement URI has had with the conference: “Not only is it a pleasure to present my scholarly research in a rigorous professional forum, but also, it’s a pleasure to have a space to reconnect with so many URI alumni and current graduate students.” Participating in events held by organizations like NeMLA provides graduate students the opportunity to showcase their own research and to network with scholars in their field from other institutions.
We are thrilled to announce that our 8th annual Graduate Student Conference, Opening Spaces: Enabling Engagement with Complex Conversations, was a huge success! The event took place Saturday, March 29th and, despite the questionable weather, boasted upwards of 150 attendees and participants. It was hosted in URI’s pharmacy building as a reminder of the conference’s push toward “opening spaces” through interdisciplinary discussion. After signing in, guests were further reminded of this theme as they walked into the beautiful foyer and were greeted by the surprising window display of life-like human dummies lying in mock hospital beds. This sparked unusual conversation among the guests, thus perfectly setting the tone for what proved to be a highly-engaging, challenging, and fruitful day of presentations and discussion.