Friday, 14 August 2015

Conference nostalgia

Just returned from Worcester and the biennial conference of the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL), I cannot help drowning in nostalgic memories. I knew I had written a blog post about the Frankfurt conference in 2009, but I didn't remember that I had also written about missing the Brisbane conference, and generally about some fond IRSCL memories. So this post will inevitably have some repetitions, but as a veteran, which I am, I felt weird when people said, proudly: "I have been a member since 1991". OK, I have been a member since 1983, and I participated, as a Jack-of-all-trades, in 1981. It is a very long time. More than half of my life.

In 1981, I wasn't a member and could not even dream of becoming a member because at that time, you were only elected into the Society if you were an established scholar, with at least one published book. By 1983, the rules had changed, and I became a member with my two publications in Russian and a handful of semi-academic articles in Swedish. I was a PhD student. I submitted a paper proposal which was rejected (I would have rejected such a poor proposal today), but I decided to go anyway. The conference was in Bordeaux. When I arrived and collected my programme, I saw my name there. I hadn't even brought my paper, but fortunately the organiser had a copy (it was in the stone age when we made xerox copies of typewritten papers). I was scheduled in the very last session, on the very last day, when half of the delegates had left. I got one question, unrelated to my paper. An old lady from the audience chastised me afterwards because I had read too fast and held the paper in front of my face (she was quite right of course). But because my topic was on fantasy, when the theme of the next conference was discussed, it became fantasy and the fantastic. Of course I had to go to that.

The 1985 conference was in Montreal, the French university, and the organisers pretended that the English part of Canada did not exist. Not one single Anglophone Canadian scholars was invited. My paper was on Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, and I was paired with a German colleague who criticised the novel down to nothingness, and it was hard for me to come with my hugely appreciative analysis.

The 1987 conference was in Cologne, and I have vague memories of it, apart from a boat trip and a visit to a museum where a guide, obviously misjudging the audience, explained the difference between Renaissance and Romanticism.

The 1989 conference was in Salamanca, and half of the sessions were in Spanish without translation. It was the first time I was asked to chair a session, which is a recognition of your scholarly status. There were two famous scholars in the session that I chaired, and they eventually became good friends. This was the conference at which I determined that I would never again find myself in a situation where everybody went off to dinner with their friends and I was left behind. Therefore I said to several people whom I knew and some whom I had just met: "There is a bunch of people going out tonight, would you like to join?" And I ended up with a lovely bunch of people to go out with.

I was asked by the IRSCL board to edit a volume from that conference, but all the best papers had been snatched, and it wasn't an enjoyable task. It was a h-ll of a task. The manuscript had to be camera-ready, no copy-editing, no proof-reading. The publisher was in the USA, and we communicated by fax. I was a very inexperienced editor and not a native speaker. It took weeks to send the proofs back and forth across the Atlantic.

The 1991 conference was in Paris. All papers had to be submitted in full and were printed in a brochure. As people were giving their presentation, the audience was reading the printed paper, turning pages audibly. One brave colleague stood in front of the audience and said: "You have my paper in the brochure so you can read it, therefore I will give another paper".  Which he did, without even having a written text.

At this conference, I was elected to the Board. I was tremendously happy and proud of myself. It was a good board, all female for a change, and we had the first board meeting in Cadiz, in the Spanish colleague's summer house by the ocean. Many meetings were to follow, although I missed the second of that round, in Toulouse, because I was in the USA on my Fulbright at the time. In fact, I had just returned from the USA when the 1993 conference was on, and I had almost decided not to go. But I did, and it changed everything.

To be continued.

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