I’ve been asking my colleagues to write up stories of their own recent conference-going experiences, so stay tuned to this page for more stories.
This past weekend I was at a workshop at the TransCanada Institute at the University of Guelph, which is headed by Smaro Kamboureli. This was a workshop about editing Canadian literature, and it brought together Canadianists from across the country to discuss editing as a cultural (as well as institutional) practice. Co-organizers were Dean Irvine, who is head of the large Editing Modernism in Canada (EMIC) research project, and Hannah MacGregor, a doctoral candidate at the University of Guelph. I was there as an invited observer, and I learned so much. But it also struck me that so much of what we Canadianists have been talking about for many years is still stuff we need to talk about, such as: the relationship between French and English Canadian literatures (two solitudes, to be sure, and not in the way that Hugh Maclennan meant); the particular issues about editing works by so-called “minority” writers, including African Canadian, First Nations, Metis and Inuit writers; and the problem of reproducing a particular version of the nation and a national literature (see, even the use of the singular there is problematic) through publishing literary anthologies. And so much more.
The conversations about editing also made me reflect on what I do as a Canadianist and as an editor. All very stimulating!
To be honest, conferences and workshops are a wonderful way to meet up with old friends and to make new ones. Because of the distances between us–geographical distances–it is hard for colleagues in Canada who work in the same fields to meet each other as often as we might like to. Workshops and conferences are also, of course, learning occasions. We are teachers to one another in such venues. And much of what we hear at conferences we take back to our own research projects, our own pedagogy, our own practice as academics. Attending a conference can reinvigorate one’s own thinking or provide a much-needed nudge in a slightly different direction. They can produce a feeling of affirmation: “yes, I am on the right track in my research and teaching”; or they can provoke: “what a great idea! I must try that approach or read that book or follow that lead.”
As Dean Irvine reminded those present in his opening remarks: this workshop was only the second time that Canadian writers, critics, and publishers had come together. The first time was in 1955 at the conference organized by F.R. Scott at Queen’s University. Wow! So glad I was there at this one.