Tugba Ilik graduated from Old Westbury with a Bachelor’s degree in English in May 2015. For her senior thesis, she did her research on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway primarily focusing on Septimus’s masculinity. She is currently applying to M.A. programs in English and hopes to ultimately pursue a Ph.D.
Thanks to Professor Camarasana, who was my Major Authors professor and Senior Thesis Director, I became familiar with a part of the literary and scholarly world that I, unfortunately, had no idea existed – the Annual International Virginia Woolf Conference. I had the opportunity to attend this four day conference and present a paper there as well. The experience was worthwhile as I got the chance to meet other students, professors, and scholars from around the world who were deeply interested in Virginia Woolf and other female modernist writers.
The conference took place at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. When I hear the word “conference” I think of a long rectangular table in the middle of a big room; there are seats for about 20 people and each person has a microphone in front of them. They get to present their paper and then we all talk about it at the end. Well, that clearly wasn’t the case here. So let me take a moment to explain how the conference was set up. There were about 15-20 panels every day, with the exception of Sunday (a shorter day which only offered five panels). Each panel had three or four presenters and there were about four panels going on at the same time in different classrooms. You chose which panel you wanted to attend based on the panel topic. Once the panel was over, you were welcome to ask questions to the panelists.
In between panels or after all the panels were over for the day, there were roundtable discussions that lasted about an hour and a half in which scholars discussed certain topics. The most memorable one for me was the discussion by Melissa Bradshaw and Madelyn Detloff. I say memorable not because the other discussions were less interesting but because this discussion helped me understand the big issues that seem to exist in the scholarly and academic world that I, as an undergraduate student who just graduated, and you as students continuing your undergraduate English degrees, should take seriously.
The discussion started off with Melissa Bradshaw talking about Shari Benstock, Hilda Doolittle (or “H.D.”), and Dame Edith Sitwell and how they showed their aesthetics in their writing. I had no idea who these writers were, and that for me was one of the most frustrating things (a point I’ll return to again below). She continued talking about these writers in an exasperated effort to almost justify that these women were also modernist writers. Where are these women in the “literary cannon” is the big question that comes up at the end.
Madelyn Detloff took a much more assertive approach in tackling this question. She called it “Woolf fatigue” meaning that Woolf is not the only modernist writer and that Woolf is constantly used as a means of talking about modernism. She continued to talk about how modernism should be portrayed to students in classrooms by professors. She mentioned that professors have control over the material that they present to their students and therefore writers from the modernist period who are not well known should also be taught and added to the literary canon.
And she is right. Why? Because half (or most, I should say) of the writers that these two speakers talked about I knew nothing of and that is what frustrated me. There I was at a conference about women modernist writers and I only knew of Woolf. However, this is not to say that we shouldn’t learn about Woolf or other modernist writers who are already in the “literary canon.” This just means that the voices of these other modernist writers need to be heard, too.
Nonetheless, the point that I’m trying to make by sharing my experience is that this conference was enlightening for me! I now have a list of authors that I feel I must learn more about which is quite exciting! I feel much more confident as an English major now that I have participated in a professional conference with other students, professors, and scholars.
I encourage all of you literature-savvy students to take part in these types of conferences and involve yourself in critical discussions both in and out of the classroom. To find out more about conferences—at SUNY OW and elsewhere—talk to your professors, show up to the English Department career chats, and follow the English Dept. webpage.