As some of you know, I was lucky enough to travel out to the US last month to attend the Children’s Literature Association Conference – titled ‘Revolt! Rebellion! Protest! Change and Insurrection in Children’s Literature.’ Some four hundred delegates responded to the stirring title with a wide variety of papers, from my own (on the sanitisation of the classics for children), to studies of subversive females and ambiguous feminism in The Wizard of Oz, to Doctor Who and the Blitz. For three glorious days (and the sun shone virtually all the time) we flocked to dozens of concurrent sessions, gathered for wonderful lunches and listened to some excellent and stimulating lectures. Julia Mickenberg (Texas) and Phil Nel (Kansas) presented a marvellous talk on ‘Radical Children’s Literature Now!’ that looked at a number of new publications (and from which my Visual Texts class may well benefit in the not too distant future) and Marah Gubar (Pittsburgh), who recently gave a talk to the NCRCL on nineteenth-century literature, argued the case for Childhood Studies, strongly and energetically opposed by Kenneth Kidd (Florida). For the creative writers (or those interested in the process), there were talks by writers, including the award-winning Virginia Euwer Wolff, who gave the keynote speech at the conference award banquet on the Saturday night. And a banquet it was. The conference was hosted this year by HollinsUniversity in Roanoke,Virginia, located in a beautiful campus (above, left) at the foot of theBlue Ridge Mountains, and our final evening was a stunning dinner in an outdoor dining quadrangle, with fireflies in the background and much excellent conversation.
Having read the entry above, you might think that conferences are a great deal to do with food and chat in picturesque settings, but meeting academics and students from around the world (and always hoping to do so in lovely surroundings, of course) is an important part of what we do at the NCRCL. It’s through conferences that friendships are formed and contacts made that can lead to collaborative scholarship, exchange of knowledge and an increased awareness generally of developments in Children’s Literature study. Delegates at the conference came from all over the world – Australia, Japan, the UK, for example – and while US delegates were the greatest number (not at all surprising, given the location of the conference), the rich variety of knowledge and expertise was very much an international affair to be shared. It looks likely that a couple of the academics I met will be giving Cluster Talks to us over the next year, so another result of conference attendance. If you’d like to find out more about the ChLA, do take a look at their website on http://www.childlitassn.org/. There are also links here to the conference, with programme details if you’d like to find out more about this year’s event.
P.S. Although this is primarily a posting about the conference, I feel obliged to mention another element of my US trip for those of you who have enjoyed the film Witness starring Harrison Ford. Having long been interested in the Amish of Pennsylvania, and as I was relatively nearby in US terms, I had a short holiday in the Lancaster County area (where Witness was filmed) which is home to hundreds of Amish families and numerous Amish farms. It was a wonderful place with generous and friendly people, and I’ll long remember the sights of cars and horse-drawn buggies happily sharing the roads and Amish farmers ploughing with horse-power.