Symposium Retrospective: ‘Sister Earth: Global Relationships in Contemporary Women’s Writing’

Clearly conference season is in full swing, with this being my third event retrospective in a row. This will be my last for a while, as term gets going here and I feel more pressure to knuckle down to the proper business of doctoral study.

‘Sister Earth’ was arranged by PG CWWN with the support of the Goldsmiths English and Comparative Literature Department, and it was held on the 26th April. The event wasn’t really in my subject area as it attracted papers with a more post-colonial focus. I attended since I’m on the steering group of the PG CWWN, and because being knowingly ignorant and a little outside your comfort zone is good.

The panels included papers on Egyptian women writers and their relationship with the West and Islam, the romance narrative in African novels, Doris Lessing and positionality, Latino-American memoirs and fiction and hybridity in myth, Christianity and Hindu experiences. I particularly enjoyed hearing about an interactive novel/’building site’/readers’ text by Suniti Namjoshi which you can see yourself here. I like the idea of an invitation to continue it at the end of a novel; which isn’t a million miles away from the screen at the end of texts I read on my Kindle which invites me to tweet/share that I’ve finished that book.

The keynote was a reading and Q and A with author Bernardine Evaristo. I’ve been a fan of her work for several years – I found her verse novels in particular totally engrossing, and Blonde Roots is an excellent subversion of the slave trade which really challenges our racial hierarchies, but with a lightness of humour. Bernardine’s answers in conversation were engaging and generous. I tweeted some of the comments on behalf of PG CWWN.

Amy Rushton in conversation with Bernardine Evaristo

All in all, it was another great day meeting and mingling with other academics. However, as nice as my outings are, I really must get back to writing my thesis now. Honest.

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Event Retrospective: New Voices in Irish Criticism 2012, ‘Legitimate Ireland’

This was the mighty fourteenth conference in the ‘New Voices in Irish Criticism’ series, hosted by Queen’s University, Belfast. The theme was ‘Legitimate Ireland’, and there were papers on various aspects of legitimacy in the humanities.

I presented a paper which subverted readings of canonicity and exclusion in the work of Colette Bryce on day one. Thankfully, this timing left me free to enjoy the other postgraduate and early career papers, the various wine receptions, the conference dinner – and of course the keynotes.

Lots of the papers were stimulating, although the ones which I could link to my own work were most provoking. Joanna Etchart (Sorbonne) on Belfast’s ‘ambiguous desire to be a “boom” city’ reflected on the effects of flagship development programmes such as the Titanic Quarter and public sculpture. The ambiguity she identified resonated with representations of the post-Troubles city in poetry.

Belfast's new 'Signature Building' - boom town?

There were also an encouraging number of papers reflecting on masculinity, fatherhood and patriarchy in drama, fiction, poetry and film. I chaired a panel on which Michael Maguire (UCD) spoke about e-poetry and literary inheritance and David Delaney (NUIG) addressed docile bodies, Beckett and the digital age. These two papers raised a number of issues about digitization, e-literatures, and academia’s attitude to technological innovation.

Professor Elizabeth Butler Cullingford’s keynote addressed three novels of emigration – which tied in nicely with thoughts still swimming in my head following the ‘New Perspectives on Irish Women and the Diaspora‘ conference.  Butler Cullingford paralleled her readings of renewed interest in (historical) emigration to the U.S. in recent Irish novels with the statistical reality that relatively low numbers of Irish are going there (less than 5000, legally). The novels she addressed which I haven’t read (On Canaan’s Side and Let the Great World Spin) are on my holiday reading list.

There was plenty of time for networking too, and having often felt somewhat isolated by the relative obscurity of my very contemporary field, I was pleased to make contact with others working on modern Irish poetry. Continuing with the American theme from the keynote, and the idea of legitimacy, I sat with two American PhD students at dinner – who inform me that this is the most ‘authentic’ song of the American south.

The thing I should be settling down to is my thesis – so here goes.

Event Retrospective: New Perspectives on Irish Women and the Diaspora

This has rapidly become a more retro-retrospective than I intended. I attended ‘New Perspectives on Irish Women and the Diaspora’, a one day conference at Bath Spa University, on the 24th March 2012. I wasn’t presenting a paper (for my sins, I missed the CFP deadline), so I was free to relax and reflect on the other research. This topic of diaspora interests me not only because one of my thesis poets moved from Derry to England, but because I also moved from Northern Ireland at 18.

What was quite new for me at this event was a sociological approach to the topic. In many ways, it was a revelation that diaspora studies is an entirely autonomous field. I was familiar with the ‘Generation Emigration‘ series the Irish Times are running, but I hadn’t given much thought into provision for vulnerable Irish abroad, or how the cultural, economic and legal systems can impact on experiences of diaspora.

The event, organised by Dr Ellen McWilliams, was also an excellent model of how academic conferences can be both inter-disciplinary in focus and engage with community groups (dare I say ‘public impact’?).  There was an excellent round-table discussion with representatives of charitable organisations including the London Irish Women’s Centre, the Federation of Irish Societies, Justice for Magdalenes and the Abortion Support Network. There was also a reading from Moy McCrory, a talk about artistic practice from Rachael Flynn and an introduction to a community arts project at the London Irish Women’s Centre.

As regards the papers, I obviously particularly enjoyed the literary ones – and it was a pleasure to meet/catch up other academics working on poetry (Adam Hanna, Dr Deirdre O’Byrne and Dr. Tom Herron). All their papers were an intriguing mix of migration theory and gender theory. The ‘straight’ migration studies papers also introduced me to new debates and the case study practice common in that field – which I will try to consider at some stage in own academic work (thesis or conference paper based).

The conference was a great success – and I’m encouraged to see that the related Facebook group is still busy one month on. From that, I found a project based in my old city which recounts experiences of the Irish in Leicester. That website has an interactive Google map which marks locations important to the immigrant Irish there – and I’ve enjoyed reading the experiences 0f those who lived in my former neighbourhoods.

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