Ernest Suarez addressing the conference at lunch

Catholic U. students, faculty, and alumni present at the ALSCW conference

by Dr. Rebecca Rainof

The Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers (ALSCW) held its 22nd annual conference at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee the weekend of November 1st to 4th, 2018. The organization, headquartered at The Catholic University of America in the English Department, is devoted to the study and creation of literature, and seeks to foster connections between scholars, writers and teachers. As Executive Director Dr. Ernest Suarez said to all the attending members, “If there is an ethos to the organization, it is bringing together critics and creative writers.”

This year’s conference brought together nearly 200 academics, poets, fiction and creative non-fiction writers, and teachers at the high school through university level to discuss literature and the arts. Traditionally, conference highlights include numerous high caliber poetry readings. This year proved to be an exceptional year for poetry, in being hosted and organized by poet Kate Daniels, Edwin Mims Chair of English at Vanderbilt and Director of Creative Writing. Mark Jarman and Garrett Hongo delivered the plenary reading and keynote respectively, and Hongo delighted the audience by improvising John Coltrane mid-poem. 

Garrett Hongo delivering keynote address

In addition to readings, every year the conference features an array of plenary speakers and seminars on literary topics that span different literary periods and languages. Seminars are like small classes, in which participants pre-circulate papers, then present their work briefly to jump start discussion. The seminar format is unique and one of the great attractions of the conference, with participants at all career levels coming together to converse and share work.

Amongst the seminars this year were numerous participants from the Catholic U. English Department. Dr. Tobias Gregory, Associate Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies, led a two-day seminar on Milton that was widely praised for its rigor and energetic discussion. As Dr. Gregory noted, “I was impressed by the quality of the papers submitted for the Milton seminar, and by a rich, wide-ranging discussion in which all involved took part: junior and senior scholars, seminar participants and auditors, Miltonists and experts in other fields. The group was so strong that it made my task as convener easy and rewarding; I only wish that I could re-assemble that group on a regular basis.”

The theme of music and the sister arts also characterizes many of the seminars and plenaries each year, and this conference proved to be no exception. Dr. Ernest Suarez, ALSCW Executive Director and David M. O’Connell Professor and Chair of English, co-organized a seminar on “Poetic Song Verse” with Mike Mattison of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. A range of papers on subjects including graphic novels and poetic ekphrasis further allowed discussants to explore the cross-pollination between different art forms.

Graduate and undergraduate alumni of the English Department also made a strong showing, presenting work on a broad array of topics. For the “Rereading” seminar, Dr. Lindsay Rerecich (Ph.D. '18) presented on Pride and Prejudice, focusing on a key scene of Elizabeth re-reading Darcy’s letter. The paper was titled, “Reading Rereading: What We Learn from Elizabeth Bennet.” Graduate alumna Dr. Nelly Lambert (Ph.D. '13), a fellow at Bard College's Institute of Writing of Thinking, presented “Freeing the Sonnet’s ‘Gown,’: Bishop, Brooks and Dickinson. Undergraduate alumni also represented our campus. Christopher Suarez (B.A. English '13), current doctoral student in English and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, gave a paper on “West to East: Narration in The Beatles’ Revolver.”

As one of its core goals, the ALSCW seeks to create a space for open and lively discussions about teaching, and the annual conference regularly brings togethers teachers at primary and secondary schools with those at colleges and universities. Given the Catholic U. English Department’s commitment to teaching, it comes as no surprise that many alumni and faculty presented at the pedagogy seminars, which allow for debate and active discussion about topics ranging from close reading to the benefits of writing workshops. English alumna Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (Ph.D. '16) presented in the High School Teachers Seminar on “Saving the Distracted Student: Pedagogical Methods to Encourage a Love of Beauty in Literature.” Dr. Taryn Okuma, Associate Professor of Practice in English, and Dr. Rebecca Rainof, Associate Professor of English, co-presented with Dr. Briallen Hopper of CUNY on “Personal Writing: Team Teaching Across Universities and Campuses.”

To put together a conference of this magnitude requires a team of devoted scholars, and scholar poet Ryan Wilson (ALSCW Office Manager, editor of ALSCW publication Literary Matters, and and current Ph.D. candidate in English), was responsible for many of the efforts to make this event happen, working together with Logistics Coordinator, Jeffrey Peters (Ph.D '18).

Ernest Suarez addressing the ALSCW

As the conference concluded, Suarez once again spoke of the vital role organizations like the ALSCW play in keeping “the humanities vital and alive.” He cautioned that when “the assumptions of the critic and the creative writer stray too far” a rift occurs that is detrimental to the study of literature. The annual conference helps writers and scholars “keep in touch with one another on a broader spectrum."

The conference next year will be at The College of the Holy Cross, Oct. 3rd-6th, 2019 in Worcester, MA.