Monday 22 February 2016

The 21st Annual Southwest English Symposium

One of my primary focuses this semester thus far has been the 21st Annual Southwest English Symposium (SWES) that I co-chaired with Abigail Oakley. The symposium was on Friday and Saturday of this weekend, February 19th & 20th, and I'm happy to say that it went very well! Here is a reflection on symposium by the numbers, and then I will sum up my reflections and reactions to hosting the symposium following: 
  • At the opening Friday night social at Zipp's on Mill Ave, we hosted over ten visiting students for appetizers and fun conversations. 
  • At the symposium, we had just over 30 individual presentations in four sessions with two or three presentation panels presenting in each session. The presenters were from about 15 different universities from all over the country. 
  • The opening panel consisted of two visiting lecturers from Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore, Pakistan, Saifyia Fawad and Zahra Hanif, and a Ph.D. student in literature from ASU, Matt Henry. Their panel was labeled "Postcolonial Perspectives on South Asia and the Americas," and it was a unique and enlightening way to open the conference.
  • Dr. Ian Bogost, an author, professor, and award-winning game designer, gave the keynote
    address that was attended by conference participants, committee, and other ASU affiliates. His talk focused on "ironia" and the way that it is understood in relationship to objects and nostalgia, historically and today. His unique style of delivery and innovation in theoretical and public knowledge was exciting and revelatory. 
  • The final event, a poetry reading at Rula Bula Irish Pub, was attended by SWES participants and families who had the opportunity to listen to seven ASU MFA students read original works of poetry and fiction. At the poetry reading, we were excited to award a travel grant to Ben Larsen from the University of Wyoming, as well as registration refunds from a random drawing to Tyler Ringstad from Washington State University and Nanette Schuster from Arizona State University. The poetry reading was a lovely way to conclude the symposium, and we were glad to be able to host and offer the awards to presenters. 
As I conclude this post, and this weekend, and reflect back over the preparation and hosting of the conference, I am struck by two reflections:

The first thought that I have is that hosting a conference can be somewhat lonely. The nitty gritty tasks that go into planning even a small, regional symposium are, at time, overwhelming and difficult to keep track of. I was so lucky to have shared the chairing responsibilities with Abby, and we truly had a wonderful committee that worked with us. As the symposium was running, though, I was conscious of the many times that I was alone-- hanging up signs, organizing lunch boxes, or sending last minute emails. There was a lot of "behind the scenes" work that contributed to a, hopefully, well-run conference.

The second thought that I have about the symposium may seem contradictory to the first, but I don't think it is. I was struck by the importance of the work of symposiums and conferences because of the way they bring individuals and groups together. Last year, when Abby and I were initially asked to take on the co-chairing responsibilities, I would have never imagined that our conference, with the theme "Objects and Commodities", would open with visiting Pakistani scholars, have a delightful and and revealing keynote including images of Walmart items for sale (to be found in Dr. Bogost's next book), contain a conversation with a Creative Writing Ph.D. student from University of Illinois-Chicago about David Foster Wallace, include a connection with a Literature Ph.D. candidate from the University of Colorado-Boulder about comprehensive exams and mutual friends, and then conclude with a lovely poem about a dead dog by ASU MFA candidate, Dustin Pearson. That is what happened, though, and there is no other place, specifically in academia, where ideas, stories, and experiences are shared and appreciated so readily, excitedly, and with such impact. I think it is especially important for graduate students and early-career scholars to feel welcomed and supported in these ways, and we were happy to welcome several scholars who were presenting their work for the very first time. If we could provide that kind of support for even a few people, then all of the work and planning and emails and runs across campus in preparation for the symposium over this past year have been all worth it.

If you are interested in learning more about the symposium, visit our website, take a look at the SWES 2016 Program, or scroll through photos taken by myself and Wade E. Bruce.

Opening Panel Speakers

Individual Session Presentation

Lunch Time

Ian Bogost's Keynote. Photo by ASU English Department Photographer, Bruce Matsunaga.
Gary Garrison at the Poetry Reading. Photo by Wade E. Bruce.

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