Category Archives: Conferences

The Common Reader









On Friday, November 5th at the ALSCW conference in Princeton, NJ, Patricia Hampl, Mark Edmunson, Mark Halliday and Phillip Lopate sat on a panel to discuss “The Common Reader” and the common, contemporary experience of reading.

Hampl focused on the relationship between the author’s mind and the reader’s mind, specifically in personal forms of writing. She cited Fitzgerald’s collection of essays, “The Crack-Up,” as a series of psychological breakdowns between story and poem that marked a shift from omniscience to an autobiographical and personal voice.

Mark Edmunson found that the common reader is one who reads for pleasure and easy enjoyment; with many people working a 40 hour work week and needing two incomes to get by, Edmuson explained, the common reader does not wish to undertake the strenuous effort required to understand complex texts. The media, also, no longer strives to shape tastes as it once did. If it took this approach, Edmunson hypothesized, the common reader would feel dumb. Taking a somewhat cynical approach to the topic, Edmunson saw the common reader as a kind of narcissus, not looking for a challenge so much as instant gratification.

Poet Mark Halliday spoke of the use of accessible versus difficult language in poetry, and his own inclination as a poet to identify with the common reader. Citing the tendency of common readers to conceive of poems as characterized by non-transparent, obscure language, Halliday argued for the power of simple, accessible language to convey complex ideas. He spoke of clarity and obscurity not as binaries, but rather as different methods of approaching a poem. Language with surface simplicity can convey an underlying difficulty, he related, while seemingly inaccessible language can convey the simplest of ideas. Phillip Lopate, the final speaker, called himself a common reader, one looking for an understanding of the way things are, what he called wisdom, or, the loss of innocence.


Matthew Connolly


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Robert Schwab of The DENVER EXAMINER Writes About The 2009 ALSC Conference

Schwab writes, “[E]ven in the snow and cold, the confab was a good opportunity for Colorado’s literary crowd, led by Boulder poet David J. Rothman, a ALSC board member, to show off our city’s arts-friendly infrastructure to a pretty brainy group of mostly East Coast literary heavy-lifters.”

To read the full article, click here.

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Conference: Wallace Stevens, New York, and Modernism

A reprint of  an advertisement of interest.

Gallatin School, New York University
March 4–6, 2010

New York University’s Gallatin School will host a conference, co-sponsored by the Poetry Society of America, on March 4, 5, and 6, 2010, on the work of Wallace Stevens. Stevens’ poetry will be at the center of the conference, and speakers include some of Stevens’ most distinguished readers—scholars and poets alike. Presentations will consider Stevens’ early work in New York in relation to the temper of the times, but also how his continuous relationship to the city might have helped to shape his later poetry. Those interested in attending or in receiving more information should contact

Lisa Goldfarb


Nicole Derise

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Lesley University Writers’ Conference – July 2009

The 2009 Lesley University Writers’ Conference runs from Sunday, July 29 through Friday, July 31 on Lesley’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Faculty includes Afaa Michael Weaver and Steven Cramer (Poetry), David Elliot (Children’s Book Writing), Marcie Hershman (Nonfiction), and Rachel Kadish and Michael Lowenthal (Fiction). The guest authors this year are Julia Glass, M.T. Anderson, and Gail Mazur.

For detailed information, visit

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T.S. Eliot International Summer School, June 27 – July 4, 2009

Director: Professor Ronald Schuchard (Emory University).

Executive Director: Dr Wim Van Mierlo (University of London).

The Summer School will bring together some of the most distinguished scholars of T.S. Eliot and Modern Literature, including Jewel Spears Brooker (Eckerd College), Robert Crawford (St Andrews), Anthony Cuda (North Carolina), Denis Donoghue (New York), Mark Ford (London), Jennifer Formichelli (Boston), Lyndall Gordon (Oxford), Jason Harding (Durham), Barbara Hardy (London), Gail McDonald (Southampton), A. David Moody (York), Christopher Ricks (Boston), Ronald Schuchard (Emory), and Wim Van Mierlo (London). The School will be opened by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney.

The School will present two lectures each morning on all aspects of Eliot’s life and writing. Afternoon seminars are devoted to a week-long, in-depth study of Eliot’s work. Students can select from such topics as Introduction to T.S. Eliot; The Early Poems; The Making of The Waste Land; The Later Poems; Eliot as a Dramatist; Eliot as Critic. An extensive social programme will include poetry readings by Paul Muldoon and Josephine Hart, a walking tour of Eliot’s London, and excursions to Little Gidding, Burnt Norton, and East Coker.

For enquiries, registration and programme information:; Tel: +44 (0)20 7862-8680


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ALSC Members Present at AWP Conference in Chicago

Several ALSC members are presenters at this year’s Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, held February 11th to 14th at the Hilton in Chicago, Illinois. The AWP Annual Conference is an essential gathering for writers and those in the literature field. Featured readers this year include ALSC members Andrew Hudgins (The Ohio State University), Heather McHugh (University of Washington) and David Yezzi (The New Criterion). Reginald Gibbons, Professor of English at Northwestern, will participate in a featured tribute to Thomas McGrath.

The ALSC is well-represented in the Conference’s numerous panels, forums, and readings by such distinguished poets and literary professionals as Paul Breslin (Northwestern University), Molly McQuade, Don Share (Poetry magazine), A. E. Stallings, and Rosanna Warren (Boston University).

For a complete listing of Conference events and exhibits, and for more information about the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, please visit

– Richie Hofmann

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Azar Nafisi Interviewed by

In conjunction with the January 2009 release of her second memoir, Things I’ve Been Silent About, author and teacher Azar Nafisi gives an exclusive interview to for their popular “10 Questions With…” series.

In the interview, Nafisi shares her motivations for writing the book and answers questions about the difficulties of writing to an international audience. She eagerly emphasizes the significance of storytelling “as a way to communicate with the world” and learning how “to deal with books… [as] a participatory process.” Ms. Nafisi’s book is not just about Iran, or just about the personal memories she has of her mother: it is about the boundary between fact and fiction, and what she calls an “entry permit” into literature whose appeal is universal. “I hope that people in Iran understand that this is not about dirty secrets,” she says; “I hope they will read it as a desire to discover some truth and as a celebration of individual lives.”

Her fundamental message of connecting through literature and culture resonates particularly strongly in the current partisan atmosphere, and she maintains that “the simplistic notions that politics creates about other people is all negated through reading books.”

Ms. Nafisi is certainly well qualified to speak and write on the subject, having experienced firsthand the evolution of Iranian society under the new regime. She has written extensively about Iranian culture and is celebrated for what she calls her “obsession” with liberal arts and culture, but also for her strong belief in education, which fuels the plot of her memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran.

Azar Nafisi will be the featured speaker at the Fifteenth Annual ALSC Conference, to be held in Denver Colorado, October 2009.

Goodreads is the largest social network for readers in the world, allowing members to review books, contact authors, hold discussion groups, post original writing, and more.

– Chelsea Bell & Erin McDonagh

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2009 Conference Featured Speaker to Speak in Texas on March 12

An event of note.

As a preview for the Fifteenth Annual ALSC Conference, to be held in October 2009 in Denver, Colorado, we are pleased to note that our featured speaker Azar Nafisi will be speaking at the Harry Ransom Lecture on March 12th of this year.  The Harry Ransom Lectures are held in Austin at the University of Texas and sponsored by the University Co-operative Society, in memory of former Chancellor Harry Huntt Ransom. Azar Nafisi has taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and Allameh Tabatabai, and is currently a Visiting Professor and the director of the Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.  Ms. Nafisi is the celebrated author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003); another work, Things I Have Been Silent About, appears this month in print.  While teaching in Tehran, she endured dismissal and a six-year teaching hiatus for refusing to wear a veil in the classroom, and her work concerns both criticism of the Islamic regime and self-criticism in the vein of Pride and Prejudice.  She has been greatly distinguished for her studies and promotion of culture and human rights, especially in the Middle East, most recently in 2006 by the Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature, presented by the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media.  We celebrate her acclaim in Texas as we anticipate her weekend with us this fall.

– Erin McDonagh

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A Look Back: Shakespeare After Shakespeare at the 2007 ALSC Conference

This is part one of a retrospective on the 2007 ALSC Conference in Chicago. To learn more about our upcoming conference in Philadelphia, visit

Anston Bosman speaks during the Shakespeare After Shakespeare session at the 2007 ALSC Conference

This Friday-afternoon session began the ALSC’s 2007 conference on a scholarly note. Association president Morris Dickstein opened the session with a brief welcome, remarking on the partnership with the Poetry Foundation, its support of poetry generally, and how natural it was, therefore, for the ALSC to open the convention with a panel on Shakespeare, one of literature’s greatest poets. Convener Stephen Orgel then provided a critical framework for the panel’s three papers, noting his hope that the proceedings would “encourage thinking on how canons are put together,” a subject to which Shakespeare is central. According to Orgel, the “rich raw material” of Shakespeare’s work has proven “endlessly malleable” through centuries of manuscripts, printed editions, revivals, readers, librarians, and audiences. Unfortunately, Michael Wyatt, one of the four scheduled panelists, could not attend. But Orgel shared some of Wyatt’s research on Measure for Measure, in connection with the early eighteenth-century editor Charles Gildon, and Purcell’s opera Dido & Aeneas to provide the audience with a “teaser” of what was to follow.

The remaining three panelists were very much present. Anston Bosman, Amherst College, presented a paper entitled “Retouching the Lord Hamlet,” which treated primarily an early seventeenth-century German version of the Hamlet narrative, known in a contemporary English translation as Fratricide Punish’d. For Bosman, this play exemplifies what he calls “inter-theatre,” a “transcultural hybrid of polyglot productions” that features traces of earlier texts and stagings from different countries. He situates this German version of the Dane within a “tradition of hybrid Hamlets,” and his focus ultimately involves our more familiar textual “versions” of the play—the Variorum Hamlet and the 1982 Arden edition.

Bradin Cormack, University of Chicago, next argued in “Remaking Shakespeare’s Sonnets” that Shakespeare invokes an “erotics of substitutability” that privileges legal textuality, transmission, and the conversion of the immaterial into the material. This discourse, or “poetics of possession,” illuminates the various figures of ownership and inheritance in these poems, and it ensures—at least in the 1609 edition of the sonnets—that the “poems themselves do a good deal of the work of imagining their reception.” Bradin offered the memorable example of a legal manuscript featuring a “nest of couplets,” or as he puts it, motifs isolated as usable form, to illustrate the response by one reader from Shakespeare’s near future, the sort of reader already imagined in the sonnet sequence itself.

Finally, Jeffrey Knight, Northwestern University, concluded the panel with his paper “Of Shreds and Patches: Shakespeare’s Afterlife in Books.” Knight began with a simple, material question—how do we physically make, buy, sell, and read books? He considers bound, and rebound, editions of Shakespeare’s quartos and folios as his first case study, showing how modern institutions value a “perfect” or orderly collection that is often at odds with original printings of these texts and the reading habits of those who owned them. “Pre-modern books in modern archives are fundamentally divorced from original contexts,” Knight asserted. He introduced a miscellany of early modern books found in several major rare-book libraries, and showed how archivists’ efforts to bleach, standardize, and rebind ruins the integrity—the authentication and completeness—of the very “high prestige texts” whose preservation is presumably so important. These early modern books could be used as notepads, as file folders, or for the propping up of children (!), and they are all objects of “limited possession,” eventually passed down to heirs, etc. (Isn’t everything?) “Mutability is precisely what made these desirable,” said Knight, making some concluding comparisons with today’s new technologies such as iTunes and Sony Reader, which resembles nothing so much as a Renaissance commonplace book.

In the closing Q&A session, Orgel decried archivists’ habit of bleaching books; this practice values “literature” that is reflected in a “pure, pristine object,” and untainted by marginalia and other traces of readers’ histories. Dickstein quipped that we don’t want used texts, which share a reputation with pre-owed vehicles. In any case, each of these three papers was a more respectable vehicle to explore Shakespeare’s literary afterlife, and the issues of reception generally.

– Brett Foster

The text of this post originally appeared in ALSC Newsletter 14.1 (Winter 2008).

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Call for Papers Deadline Extended to Friday

One seminar of the 2008 ALSC Conference in Philadelphia to be held October 24-26 has re-issued its call for papers. The seminar is “Literary Magazines: Meeting Places.” All submissions must reach the convener of the session by Friday September 19, 2008.

Morris Dickstein, distinguished professor of Theatre and English at the CUNY Graduate Center will chair the seminar. Papers should be sent to Professor Dickstein as well as to the Association’s office. Additional prospective members and current members alike are encouraged to apply.

For further information on requirements, our seminars in general, or this seminar in particular, please visit our conference website here.

– Beth Stone

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