Getting the Story Straight: Slavery in Rhode Island

This guest post is by Christopher Cooney, a junior at URI. He began his career as a jazz percussion major but is now pursuing an English degree. He enjoys reading, lifting, and playing and listening to music of all kinds.

Professor Christy Clark-Pujara’s lecture on slavery in Rhode Island was both informative and eye-opening. I was not aware that the economy of Rhode Island was so reliant on the business of slavery, or for so long. Discussions of slavery often put great emphasis on the southern slave states, while the north is seen as a place where slavery was not quite as prominent. As I learned, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, Rhode Island was one of the first colonies to become involved in the slave trade, and its economy quickly became reliant upon it. Interestingly, one of the main functions of northern slavery was to sustain southern slaves, manufacturing and exporting clothing and rum. Having lived here all my life, placing all of this within the context of Rhode Island made it all the more unsettling. The vast majority of slave ships in Rhode Island left from either Newport or Providence, two places I frequent often. Another unsettling fact is this: during the peak of the slave trade, 25% of the Newport population was enslaved.

As enlightening as all this information was, Clark-Pujara made it clear that what she wanted to get across is how the business of slavery shaped the experience of slavery. To me, this is far more captivating. Facts are facts, but there’s little point in discussing them for their own sake. Facts are like compact representations. The real question is: what do they mean? What’s more important are the slaves themselves, their experience, and how these realities affected their lives. That is, in one massive way: the reliance of Rhode Island economy on slave labor effectively stalled emancipation. The well-being of slaves was held second to the well-being of the economy, as it would have been destroyed had slave labor been removed all at once. Despite this, slaves found ways to resist, rebel and stand up against the oppression.

What Clark-Pujara seemed to stress most of all was the slaves’ resilience. They did not simply lie down and accept their fate. They instead invested in themselves by establishing mutual aid societies for the welfare of their communities, and “attached these institutions to national institutions in pursuit of equality,” Clark-Pujara explained. She also emphasized the fact that slavery was essentially broken down by the slaves themselves through their actions, not simply as a result of the Gradual Emancipation Laws, illustrating their fortitude in the face of oppression. She expressed this in an extremely concise and effective way, saying that the gradual emancipation laws “reflected” the actions of the slaves rather than “catalyzed” their eventual freedom. The Gradual Emancipation Laws alone did not necessarily free the slaves; they were already in the process of freeing themselves.

This lecture was not just a stream of facts and information, it was a look at the history of people who took their lives into their own hands, and who refused to submit to the oppression thrust upon them. Clark-Pujara emphasized the importance of this particular history, and of historical knowledge in general. The slaves in Rhode Island (or anywhere else, for that matter) were not merely passive participants in their oppression; they took control and fought for freedom until it was theirs. Clark-Pujara talked about how important it is that this information persists through the years. It reminds us of how important it is to maintain autonomy, to stay conscious, and to remain vigilant in the face of injustice.

To me, this talk highlighted the importance of investigating common misconceptions within our sphere of “general knowledge.” It speaks to me even more as I become increasingly aware of the grand narratives that inhabit our lives. Today, there is an abundance of information on every subject you could possibly imagine. And often, misconceptions cut through, for example, in this case, the misconception that slavery was not prominent in the north, or that all slaves were granted freedom through the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th amendment. Thus, it is imperative that one thinks critically about the information that is being handed to them. Maybe the information that is easiest to come by isn’t the most accurate or thought through. Sometimes you need to go out of your way to find the truth. That’s precisely what happened to me in attending this lecture, as I learned things I may never have learned otherwise. And again, it’s not about the facts or the numbers, necessarily, however interesting they may be. It’s about the reality behind them. It’s about staying conscious; of history, and what it can teach us about the woclarkrld we live in today.

Clark-Pujara’s 2016 book, “Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island”, goes further in depth on the subjects she discussed in her lecture. For anyone interested in learning more, here is a fantastic opportunity to educate yourself on this crucial history.

Inaugural Reading: Graduate Literary Arts Committee

December, traditionally, is a gift-driven season. It doesn’t matter if they’re the abstract gifts sung about in holiday tunes, the gifts of rest and relaxation, literal gifts—wrapping-papered and bowed—or the gift of time spent with family and friends… even the Grinchiest of us enjoys a good gift in December. And this year, the Graduate Literary Arts committee had a gift of its own to share with its Rhode Island friends and URI family: its inaugural graduate reading.

The reading was hosted by the Willett Free Library, which is a brilliant little library that deserves a visit regardless of whether or not any literary events are on the horizon, and it took place over the course of an hour, giving each of its three readers approximately twenty minutes to share their work.

One of the most compelling facets of the reading (outside of the readings themselves) was the lineup, which showcased an undergraduate student, Nate Vaccaro; a master’s student, Sam Simas; and a doctoral student, Elizabeth Foulke.  It was nice to see a reading put together in a way that celebrates and honors students at varying level of academe, bridging the gaps so often seen between these programs during an evening of shared artistry.

Nate, the first to read, read from a large span of his work, starting with some of his earliest poems (which he had recently revisited and revised), and then moved briefly to poetry that reveled in the building and exploration of soundscapes before ending with a series of poems focused on bodies—which ranged from the insightful considerations of the human body to political examinations of constructed bodies, like Trump Tower.

Following Nate was Sam Simas, who read a single, sectioned piece entitled “Orlando,” which spoke in response to and contemplation of the shootings that took place there earlier this year. The piece, operating through numbered sections, moved in an almost kaleidoscopic fashion, shifting from character to character and moment to moment in a way that presented ideas and dissolved them into something different and surprising but inevitable, mirroring the emotional valences that surrounded the shooting and the dialogue that followed it.

Last (but, as they say, not least) to read was Elizabeth Foulke, who read from one of her non-fiction essays. In it she presented the world through the eyes of a single person navigating social constructs seemingly built for the promotion of individuals already in relationships. The work was at times serious and contemplative; in other moments it was a bit sad and searching; and—not un-occasionally—it was a hilarious display of a fiercely biting wit. Foulke’s essay kept the audience on the edge of their seats at every moment, and with each moment of laughter and frowning thought that she invoked, she helped to reveal the world in a compelling new color.

Early on in the event, more seats were dragged out for patrons as the available chairs had all been claimed. It was really wonderful to see such a great show of support for an inaugural reading like this, and with one or two additional readings promised by the Graduate Literary Arts committee for the Spring semester, there will be ample opportunities for those who missed out to get their fair share of poetry and prose in the months to come. All in all it was a great event, and I have no doubt that those who came to listen walked away with a lot more than they initially bargained for.

Interview with Department Chair, Dr. Travis Williams

  1. What do you think are some of the challenges facing the department?

Numbers. We need more undergraduate and graduate enrollment, and we also need more full-time faculty hires. As usual, of course, we also need more funding at every level. These things all work together: the more undergraduates that are enrolled, the more teachers we can hire. Higher enrollment in the graduate program is also vital, especially completed degrees because that satisfies the University. In very basic ways, it provides the reasons for why we exist

  1. On the heels of that, do those challenges change in the wake of the recent election results?

Yes. We are very worried about the election results. Money for the humanities is already comparatively low and it could get even lower if the state does not receive the funding that it usually receives. There are three direct ways it could affect us: first, if there is a decrease in direct aid to students (in the form of grant aide, scholarship aide, and fellowship aide at every level); second, if student loans continue to be as expensive as they are in terms of interest rates, or it they get worse; third, if science funding really decreases. It is not an exaggeration to think that this may be a very anti-science administration and Congress. If funding for science is cut, then the University may feel the need to redistribute its funds, and that could mean that it would squeeze the humanities even more than it does already.

I am also worried about the revival of the kinds of culture wars of the late 80s with attacks on things like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which were really terrible and from which I don’t think we have yet properly recovered. I don’t see any positive change happening there either.

  1. What new things are being talked about in the department?

 Back to the numbers question. We are trying be more organized and deliberate about how we recruit students to our various programs at both the graduate and undergraduate level, how we retain them once they are here, and how we keep in touch with them once they’ve left us. And I think in various different ways – undergraduate to graduate— we are trying to re-conceptualize what these programs are really meant to be doing and how we present them and sell them, frankly, to the people we want to be participating in them. As we know, the issue at the graduate level is that there are many, many more PhDs than there are academic jobs and I don’t see that changing considering the last question concerning the federal situation. So, re-conceptualizing what one can do with a PhD in the humanities, something that Professor Davis is working really hard on right now, and that might lead to changes in the structuring of programs, the offerings available, different tracks within a degree that people might choose from. It is all very new so none of that is certain yet, but it is what we are talking about very seriously because it is a market world and we have to move with the market. We are no longer insulated, if we ever were, from these pressures.

 At the undergraduate level, where we’ve lost 40 percent of our majors in the last eight years we need to allay fears that an undergraduate degree in English is a dead end where basically a productive career and financial security is not attainable. It certainly is not a dead end and there is plenty of evidence to show that, but that evidence has not yet caught up with the people who make larger, broader decisions at the University. And parents are still quite anxious about what a degree in English may or may not do for their children. So, representing ourselves, speaking more clearly and finding opportunities to make contact with these groups is something I am working very hard on as chair.

  1. How is the department talking about hot issues, such as adjuncts?

 Adjuncts are certainly not an ideal way to staff courses. Tenure track is always best. Here at URI we have gone from 28 to 17 tenure track positions since 2006 and we still offer so many classes. This is a poor labor and pedagogical model, especially when we think that the undergraduate needs to build relationships with the faculty. Also, tenure tracks are here for a long time, which is of course not the case with itinerant faculty. We also need to make more generous working conditions for adjuncts. We need to bring them in. We need to extend the invitation to participate. And we also need to increase morale among adjuncts.

  1. What are some goals that you have for the department? What are some of the things that you want to get done in your time as chair that you would like people to know about?

 As chair, I first want to keep things running smoothly. As for goals, we want to work on increasing numbers, which we have talked about. We need to fundraise for all kinds of reasons. We need to contact alumni. We need more general student support in the form of scholarships, fellowships, grants, etc. We also need to expand overseas activities and we need to draw more support for that. We need to grow our creative writing activities. We need to do more things like micro-scholarships to help poorer students. And we need more secure funding at the graduate level, especially in the form of endowed scholarships. That is more of a long-term goal. These are some of the things I will be working on.

Margo Jefferson: The conversation started at the URI OSSWC continues

In the third episode of the Rhode Island Council of the Humanities podcast celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, Margo Jefferson considers the intersection of journalism, the humanities, and the environment. Topics in the interview cover the tension between scholars and journalists, the possibilities for the 21st century essay, and the cultural environments that inform Jefferson’s work. From the traditional essay published as a book to an online version scored to music, the possibilities for this “theater of the mind” have expanded greatly in this last century. A keynote speaker at this last year’s Ocean State Summer Writer’s Conference, the meeting of academics and creative writers is also given attention towards the end of this insightful conversation.

http://rihumanities.org/program/pulitzer/

Have a Wonderful Break!

As everyone is rushing to get that grading done and those papers written, we at the blog wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for such a wonderful semester! All of your contributions help to make the Graduate English Blog a success and we couldn’t do it without you.

We’ll be taking a short hiatus during the break, but we’ll be back in January with some truly great posts. From an interview with our new Department Chair, to a write-up of students reading their original material, check back in to see all of the exciting things happening in our department and all of the amazing things our graduate students are involved in.

Drink some cocoa, play in the snow, spend time with friends and family, and have a wonderful break!

Student Spotlight: Barbara Farnworth

Hi, my name is Barbara Farnworth and I am a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the English Department. I completed my Qualifying Exams in April 2016 and am currently working on my dissertation proposal. I am examining humor in nineteenth-century British literature, more specifically, how women writers incorporate irony and satire in their fiction.  As I began examining humor in nineteenth-century fiction, I noticed that Jane Austen is the only nineteenth-century woman included in humor anthologies. When I developed my reading list for exams, my guiding question was: what happened to humor in women’s writing after Austen?  I discovered several non-canonical authors who included irony and satire in their works. I also explored canonical authors whose humor has not received a great deal of critical attention. For my dissertation proposal, I am concentrating on how these authors employed their narrators to communicate humor. Currently, I am reading narrative theory regarding free indirect discourse and its ability to express irony.

On the home front, my daughter, Chrissy, is in her senior year at Hampshire College majoring in either animal behavior or adolescent psychology, depending on when you ask her. This year she will complete her senior project which, at Hampshire, is similar to a master’s thesis. My husband Mike and I are known as the crazy dog people of the neighborhood. We have two golden retrievers, who are couch potatoes, and a black lab who is obsessed with retrieving tennis balls. Chrissy has a dog of her own, a black lab mix, so when she is home from college we have four (yes 4!) 70 pound dogs at our house.  Currently, Mike is attending a program with our youngest dog that will result in her becoming certified as a Pet Assisted Therapy dog.

I’m happy to report that, after several months of sitting on my butt and eating junk food while studying for my exams, I am finally exercising again. This summer I expanded my exercise routine with spinning and Pilates classes. Spinning is so addictive that I am participating in the 8 a.m. class at the Fitness Center with the undergraduates.  Of course, I’m still eating the junk food!

 

URI English Department Receives Prestigious NEH Grant

The URI English Department is thrilled to announce that we have been honored with a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The grant, part of NEH’s “Next Generation PhD” initiative, is designed to fund planning for the innovation of humanities PhD programs. URI joins 27 other universities nationwide who received planning and implementation funding, with the goal of better preparing graduate students for today’s competitive array of Humanities career options, both in and outside of academia. As Marcus Cederström has recently urged in an article for Inside Higher Ed, “What’s missing in many humanities graduate programs is the framework that will help us translate the skills we develop, the guidance to do so and the support to pursue employment outside of academe. That has to change. And fast.” This is precisely the exciting opportunity URI’s English Department, University administrators, and both current and future PhD students have in front of them.

Dr. Kathleen Davis describes the grant as “[securing] partnerships, internships, new collaborations, and innovative curricular changes that will prepare our doctoral students to expand their career aspirations and to bring the fruits of Humanities learning to all aspects of civic life.” One of the central objectives of the NEH Next Generation Humanities PhD initiative is to increase cross-disciplinary communication and learning opportunities for doctoral students in five key areas: Coastal Environment, Health & Medicine, Publishing/Editing, Digital Humanities & Big Data, and Cultural Organizations. There are over 40 faculty, administrators, and students working on the grant from at least 10 disciplines (which readers can see here: http://web.uri.edu/nextgenphd/). Generally speaking, then, the task of the NEH committee is to ask two vitally important questions: “Where are the Humanities now?” and “Where are Humanities PhD programs going?” These have been critical questions for the Humanities for decades now, as the death knell for the Humanities has continued to be rung periodically, amidst what seems to be an increasingly Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)—and digitally-focused world.

News stories about how the skills of Humanities undergraduate majors and doctoral students align with demands of the current job market have begun to appear. As recently as October 2016, Scientific American published an editorial staff-authored essay encouragingly entitled, “STEM is Vital—but Not at the Expense of the Humanities.” In our current moment, we may despair over the corporatization of the university, which seems increasingly designed to prepare students for jobs rather than encourage prolonged critical reflection about oneself or the world. Prominent politicians have not helped: “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the tax payer,” said governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin), while former Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio declared we need “more welders and less philosophers.” Scientific American supplies a helpful response to such reductive talk:

 

If . . . advocates of a STEM-only curriculum look more closely, they will find that the student who graduates after four years of pursuing physics plus poetry may, in fact, be just the kind of job candidate sought out by employers. In 2013 the Association of American Colleges & Universities issued the results of a survey of 318 employers with 25 or more employees showing that nearly all of them thought that the ability to “think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems”—the precise objectives of any liberal arts education—was more important than a job candidate’s specific major.

 

Contrary to what some parents, students, and politicians may think, the difference between STEM and the Humanities is not “useful v. useless.” As the editors of Scientific American show, a Humanities education offers students the opportunity to acquire skills that are not distancing them from current career demands, but are closing the gap as such skills become more and more necessary in a global business market demanding complex, precise communication between international business communities and divergent cultures.

 

If it is obvious, however, to the editors of Scientific American that the Humanities offers something necessary and, at times, intangible to the success of STEM fields (the “artistic sensibility” of Steve Jobs is the oft-cited example as the captain of industry who knew nothing of the nitty gritty of coding or computer engineering, yet still managed to change an entire technological field), it is still the case that many—like politicians in charge of state education budgets—need convincing of that basic premise. The Scientific American article performs for us, then, a double duty: it shows the value of the Humanities from the perspective of experts and active members in the STEM community (we see the skills that Humanities graduates bring to fields outside of the Humanities). The article also highlights, however, a gap in general understanding about the “usefulness,” importance, and value of Humanities programs and graduates. Recalling our attention to what Cederström writes above, the issue suggests itself as one of “translation.” How can the Humanities translate what we do to outsiders? How can the disciplines of the Humanities ally themselves to STEM disciplines in an effort to make this translation easier? How can we better prepare Humanities graduates to translate their skills more easily to jobs outside of the academy, and show that the depth of our theoretical training asks critical questions? This, perhaps most vitally, is the area where URI and the “Next Generation Humanities PhD” initiative is poised to intervene. With the support of the NEH and the University, we can enlarge the import of the Humanities, endeavor to create a stronger coalition of Humanities and other departments, and look eagerly to a future of the “new” and the “next,” one for which our current and prospective students will be fully prepared to take part in and, ultimately, to shape.

 

If you—readers—are interested in helping to bring to fruition some of the ideas put forth here (and some of the ideas put forth in planning meetings) please contact Kathleen Davis and/ or sign up for Kathleen Davis’s course next semester on the Public Humanities.

 

Of Mood: A Talk by Mary Cappello

cappelloIf mood is something that is induced from the outside, then the performance on November 1st by author and Professor Mary Cappello of the English department and pianist Kirsten Volness, called the audience to participate in an event that could alter and influence mood.

The performance was not in the Hoffman Room of Swan Hall where we typically gather for the Read/Write series events, rather it was held in the Fine Arts Building Recital Hall. And so the very space of the occasion was responsible for creating mood.  As the audience entered, we were met with hues of violet and indigo and a soundscape of speech accompanied by a musical loop: “eyes remove themselves from your body…  and [become] a masterpiece, a work of art…” From the start, this performance rendered an overlapping of thought and mood and posited the necessary connection between our senses and our moods.

Reading from her latest book, Life Breaks In (A Mood Almanack), Professor Cappello gave the audience the opportunity to wonder where mood resides, and to sit with the idea that mood is both of and outside the body.

Professor Cappello brings to her students and the audience and readers of her work, an examination of and reflection on those elements in our lives that we often ignore, that we do not allow ourselves the time to pause and think about. Here we are called by the author to consider mood. This may seem a contradictory exercise, to use our minds to interpret what we feel when mood may be more visceral. For this reason a reading itself is not enough. The multimodal elements of the event created a space for listeners not merely to use their minds to think about what was being read, but color and images and sound, invited us to enter a mood—what Professor Cappello might have in mind when she refers to a mood room.

 

 

Words are one medium Professor Cappello uses to create mood. Words transmit to the audience Cappello’s childhood memories. Her mother’s words and sounds constitute a sonorous envelope—a term coined by Édith Lecourt, which Cappello builds off of, “a common zone…. created by the mother’s voice, which, though originally affiliated with contact, ‘will subsequently exist on its own, without the body contact that accompanies it’ ” (305).  These sounds surround us in our formative year and may continue to reside both in our memories and somewhere outside our bodies throughout our lives.  Words are also the tools of thinkers and writers such as Roland Barthes and William Gass that inform Cappello’s reflections on mood. Thus through the blending of all of these voices, we are left with the recognition that words are a fusion of sound and thought carrying with them the both meaning and mood.

The performance also included the work of Berlin based trumpeter and composer Paul Brody’s sound instillation, “Talking Melodies.” The piece overlays music with recordings from interviews Brody conducted, turning speech into something melodic and musical.  Words and tune combine again invoking thought and emotion to induce mood.

A little over a week after the performance, I am also left thinking of the ethereal nature of mood. By projecting images of clouds behind her as she read, Professor Cappello used these stunning visuals as a metaphor for the transitory and ethereal nature of mood. Clouds shape shift as we gaze at them, the air currents sculpting their form before our eyes. They change color when the angle of light changes.

We are invited into Professor Cappello’s mind by the words she shares with us to describe the studious mood.  We might assume such a mood is fixed. In one of the chapters from which she read, “In a Studious Mood,” we follow her from the initial proclamations of what mood is not, “It doesn’t begin: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious by this sun of York,’ ” to the study of anatomy books furnished with intricate descriptions of the ear and precise scientific language. We are taken into Cappello’s study, designed to let in more light, imagining this will help in creating the studious mood, influenced as much by the outer as it is by interiority. But in this studying, this dismantling and excavating of ideas that Professor Cappello leads us through, as listeners it is possible that we do not remain in the studious mood. The reading closed with her reflections on three sounds made by her partner Jean: footsteps the “ ‘puh’ ” sound of a wooden door stuck to its frame,” and the laying of keys on a table. And though as she reads, it might be that like Cappello, it is our inhabitation of a studios mood that allows us to stumble upon unknown mysteries—including those related to the people we love—as a listener, hearing this recounting of sounds made by a loved one, I was transported from my own attempt to soak in ideas, to think in new ways, and be engaged in studious reflection, to a mood more akin to wonderment and reverence.  Which may indeed be essential to the studious mood. And so the cloud of mood continues to dance in the currents.

The evening’s performance ended with wordless sound—the music of Kirsten Volness. The audience entered into a space where the music, which lies outside of the body, travels to the body through the ear. We are reminded that our body functions as a type of interpreter. And as the evening’s presentation came to a close, Kirsten Volness’s piano composition with notes ethereal and rooted tones, provided a space in which to give ourselves up to mood—reflective, invigorating, studious, serene.

Student Spotlight: Danielle Sanfilippo

danielleHello to all! This semester I am working on my dissertation full force! I am currently working on a draft of a dissertation chapter on Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard II. My dissertation as a whole examines aristocratic masculinity in early modern drama. I love studying these plays so much. Edward and Richard have so much in common that they work beautifully together. Best of all, I am planning a trip to London and Stratford to do research! My dissertation is heavily focused on performance so I am seeing as many live performances as possible and consulting recordings when necessary. In January, I plan to see Love’s Labour’s Lost in London (preparing for Chapter 4) and viewing recordings of Edward II and Ben Jonson’s Sejanus. Securing the funding to do this is overwhelming but I am so excited at the prospect of visiting the U.K. again after almost ten years.

On the teaching front, I am all Brit Lit all the time this year. I am currently teaching Brit Lit I and I just found out that I will be doing Shakespeare and Brit Lit in the spring. So a busy year of teaching but I get to teach works that I love and that students aren’t likely to find elsewhere in their college careers. This semester, I am teaching Brit Lit with a more women-oriented focus. I am teaching as many female authors as possible. I just did a section on Marie de France and I am finishing the course with Eliza Haywood. I am looking forward to a great year at URI and I hope that everyone is having a great semester so far!

Constructing the Conference Paper: Hosting a Special Session at SCLA

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.

conference-1SCLA 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 conference-2have 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
conference-3wrong 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/