Drs. Pamela Caughie and Frank Fennell and members of Glottal Attack from the Department of English welcomed participants to the 24th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf. The four-day long conference, co-sponsored by Loyola University Chicago and Northern Illinois University, attracted scholars, students and common readers from twelve countries working in a variety of disciplines that focused around the writing and life and Virginia Woolf. Concentrating on Woolf “Writing the World,” the conference featured keynote speakers Mark Hussey, Maud Ellmann, and Tuzyline Allan, whose presentations dealt with worlds inhabited and created by Woolf, as well as subject-specific seminars lead by Melba Cuddy-Keane, Patricia Morgne Cramer, Madelyn Detloff, Jaime Hovey, Bonnie Kime Scott, and Urmila Seshagiri and Rishona Zimring.
The conference, which featured 64 panels and seminars with over 220 participants, kicked off Wednesday, June 4th, with a Bloomsbury Exhibit at the Newberry Library that afternoon and that evening a reading by Sina Queyras at the Poetry Foundation. A contributing editor at Drunken Boat, and author of several collections of poetry, Queyras work is deeply in engaged with Woolf.
Day one of the conference ended with a round table that was moderated by Mark Hussey and featured Sarah Cole, Ashley Foster, Christine Froula, and Jean Mills discussing Woolf and violence. Beginning the talk by reminding spectators of Woolf’s famous “Thinking is my fighting,” the panel engaged with ideas related to war, violence, and pacifism as it related to Woolf’s writing and the Bloomsbury group generally. Foster, highlighting Woolf’s pacifism, argued that Woolf’s writing stands as an ethical call that we have yet to respond to. While Cole framed the raw and transcendent power of violence in Woolf, Mills focused on non-violent methods as an effective means of social change, and suggested that Woolf’s work may be helpful in constructing a critical pedagogy for the classroom. This lead Hussey to remind the audience of the importance of bodies in any discourse on war and violence, and how pedagogy reorients our focus to create social and ideological change. Froula had one of the last words of the panel, taking the audience back to Hussey’s opening words by saying, “Thinking should be our fighting. We should not give up on thinking.”
The second day of the conference included a multi-media performance titled “The Glass Inward” by Anna Henson, which was inspired by Orlando. The installation allowed viewers to remix video form Henson’s original performance in an effort to explore how interactivity helps tell a story differently and adds a humanistic element to her use of technology (More information can be found here). Maud Ellmann was the keynote speaker that evening, and centered her attention on war, wireless, and weather in the writings of Woolf and Sylvia Townsend Warner. Ellmann’s attention to the “everyday” as constituted by radio waves, air raids, and the newspaper, helped collapse the distinction between home front and the front line. Her talk helped articulate the atmosphere of war and trauma that Woolf and Townsend Warner wrote in and had to respond to. That evening Dr. Ann M. Shanahan, Associate Professor of Theater, directed a concert performance of Sarah Ruhl’s Orlando, with rave reviews by scholars, students, and the general public.
The final full day of the conference concluded with a keynote by Tuzyline Allan in which she alerted the audience to absences in Woolf scholarship. Titled “The Voyage In, Out and Beyond: Virginia Woolf After Postcolonialism,” Allan argued that much archival and critical work needs to be done in relation to Woolf’s politics, encouraging the audience to engage in questions of race and ethnicity rather than allow them to remain seemingly absent. She suggests using a method of “Live-in(g)” history to recapture the historical moment Woolf wrote in, and to identify and rectify blind-spots that existed in terms of race, ethnicity, as well as gender equality.
After the closing sessions on Sunday, June 8, Dr. Paula Wisotzki, Associate Professor of Art History, gave guided tours of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute, lecturing on the design, layout, and specific exhibits of that beautiful addition.