I just got back from the British Women Writer’s Conference in Columbus, Ohio, and I thought I’d take a second in the lull before the storm as the semester winds down to post about it.

I have long intended to go to this conference, but this was the first year I made it.  There are a few things that are truly great about it:

  1. It is completely organized by graduate students, which I didn’t know before.  This tradition stems from the conference’s beginnings as a grass roots newsletter about women writers sent around by graduate students almost twenty years ago. Amazing.
  2. They are on the cutting edge—people were tweeting from the conference. I’m barely blogging so this was too much for me at this point, but very cool nonetheless.
  3. Columbus is also really cool. This was my first visit to the Mid-west, and although I was very concerned for my vegetarian friend on our first night eating out (all the salads had meat on them!), on the second night we found the hip section of town, the Short North, and had delicious Buddha bowls with peanut sauce in a place that reminded me of Ithaca, NY only more modern than the 70s hippie vibe there.
  4. As you might guess, there were all sorts of papers on obscure texts that would be hard-pressed to find a home at another conference, I think. I loved everyone’s openness to hearing about texts from Margaret Oliphant’s Life of Edward Irving to Augusta Webster’s Daffodil and the Croaxaxicians, and wondered with the advance of digital texts how many people might be downloading these books onto e-readers as we speak.
  5. All the keynotes were great, but as someone working in disability studies, I was especially excited to hear Helen Deutsch’s talk on “Truth and Beauty: Women, Disability and Literary Form,” in which (at the risk of oversimplifying) she argued that poetry, far from transcending bodily experience, often reflects embodied experience.

There will be a special issue of Prose Studies devoted to proceedings from the conference, so even those of you who missed out will have a chance to her more.


3 thoughts on “British Women Writer’s Conference

  1. Karen, glad you enjoyed the conference. I attended years ago, when it was in Kentucky, and also thought it was a worthwhile conference — I’ve been meaning to return.

    Another conference that I’ve been enoying the past two years is the newly-formed Victorian Popular Fiction Association. Great papers and great people. And another place where you will find papers on very obscure authors and texts — both times I left with a long reading list. It’s always in London, though, so a bit of a trip for North Americans.

  2. Victorian popular fiction sounds like a fabulous topic for a conference… I just googled and the website makes me want to go to the July conference–maybe next year.

    My sense is that scholars in the UK tend to conference more than we do in North America–perhaps because the country is smaller and it’s much more plausible to go somewhere for a day? Seems like my friends who did PhDs in the UK were presenting at three or so conferences a year, whereas one has seemed much more manageable to me when there’s so much time and expense involved in flying somewhere in North America. (Though there’s always the bonus conference close to home.) I’d be curious to know if this is your sense of things Tara, having experienced both.

  3. Karen: sorry for the slow response! Yes, this is definitely the case. Since moving here (and “here” for me is currently both Amsterdam and London), I have averaged about 3 conferences a year, so you are right on track. Some people even do more than that. I do think the reason is ease of travel (from most parts of England, London is just a few hours by train and even for me in Amsterdam, it’s a 45 min flight or 5 hour train ride). I would be curious to know whether this results in a tighter academic community. I certainly got to know a wonderful group of scholars working in the UK in just a year, whereas it might have taken me longer as a newcomer on the North American scene, especially if I wasn’t in a big city. Of course, no matter where we are, it also depends upon travel funding! I have 1100 euros a year slotted for conference funding, which basically funds a number of conferences in Europe, or one big trip to North America. Anyway, hope you can make it to the popular fiction conference next year!

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