I’ve been a blog delinquent. But now I am returning to blog about the ChLA conference!
During the week leading up to this conference — which is the annual meeting of the Children’s Literature Association — I was mind-numbingly nervous. I’ve never presented my work in front of “children’s lit” people, and while I had heard that this was a “friendly” conference, I thought it was a malicious lie and that in fact I would be attacked and stoned for proclaiming an incorrect publication date for Treasure Island. I have had bad conference experiences in the past that felt like stonings.
In reality, the conference was fine. I delivered my paper without the threat of old-fashioned biblical punishment.
I was particularly curious to listen to the presentations of faculty and graduate students from universities that boast particularly strong graduate programs in children’s literature. Many of these schools — like Texas A&M and Illinois State, Eastern Michigan and Hollins — not only have a critical mass of graduate students researching and writing on children’s and adolescent literature but also offer degrees in that specialization. Since I decided to really focus my studies on the genre (although I refuse to completely abandon my roots in Victorian studies), I’ve been intimidated by the faculty and students at those institutions, assuming that they are somehow privy to a cache of secret knowledge about E. Nesbit and Eric Carle — knowledge they will not share with me.
I was relieved to discover that while presenters from these universities were usually very smart and perceptive, I didn’t feel as if their work far exceeded mine in Secret Knowledge of Children’s Literature. They may have spent their years in graduate school surrounded by colleagues who were just as excited about “The Owl and the Pussycat” as they were, but my own experience without as many children’s literature connoisseurs does not seem to be a disadvantage.
Perhaps one exception was a panel from University of Pittsburgh: three graduate students discussing literacy and constructions of the child. I thought their panel was truly fantastic. I should email them and tell them so.
In any case, I am very happy to be back in Houston with The Husband, even if it is the temperature of the sun here in the Bayou City. And I have returned having learned a lot, including the following:
- It is probably possible to attend every session at the ChLA and manage to listen to panels that deal only with Twilight and Harry Potter. People love their vampires and wizards. Also, offering a composition course with a wizarding theme will earn you a wait list of sixty or more students.
- I am finally at the point in my dissertation research where people can ask me questions — whether hostile or kind — that poke at the very foundations of my entire project, and I don’t have a nervous breakdown. In fact, I can answer these questions confidently and without fear. Huzzah! I finally truly understand what I’m writing about.
- Even at friendly conferences, the senior faculty from different institutions are so happy to see one another that it can be difficult to network. There is no graceful way to butt into any of their conversations.
- You should not be afraid to check up on a journal submission after three months. The editors won’t mind. They won’t develop a hatred for you and therefore disregard your manuscript out of spite. Really.
- Academics don’t know how to dress. I already knew this, but this conference confirmed my knowledge.
- My dad’s spaghetti is the greatest.