Woolf Conference, 2: The Schedule (Thursday and Friday edition)

Thursday, June 9, 2005
4:00 Arrived in Portland two hours late, missing the first plenary talk (by Diane Gillespie, emerita of Washington State University) but in time for…

6:00 The Wine and cheese reception. The conference was at Lewis and Clark College, in South Portland. The campus is truly glorious, a former estate, and the reception was at what must have been the stables, now converted and restored into an empty hall, U-shaped, with a cobblestone courtyard. It looked like Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West’s home, to me. The creamy stucco was new and the cobbles were old, the beer was a great PNW microbrew, and the cheese cubes were, well, campus catering cheese cubes. I ran into old friends who introduced me to new folks and we chatted and drank until around 9, when I retired to the dormitory.

Friday, June10, 2005
9:00 “A Bloom of One’s Own: Exploring Bloomsbury Through Altered Books” I love altered books (although I don’t know if, before now, I could have told you that that was the name for them. Discovering Tom Philips’ A Humument was a great day for me. Besides, I didn’t want to go to an intellectual panel right before my own. (This panel, like most of the others, was just one of six or seven simultaneous ones. I would guess there are about 200 people at the conference.) Elisa Kay Sparks of Clemson described Philips as the father and scrapbooking as the mother of this new movement (provocative and funny and worthy of its own further consideration as feminist literary history) and then explained how she had assigned her grad students the task of creating an altered book (as an alternative to a journal). She showed off her own altered book and two students walked us through theirs.

11:00 Woolf and ‘Influence’ I gave my paper in between lovely papers on connections between Woolf’s pacifism and Tolstoy’s and the significance and preponderance of sewing metaphors in Woolf.

After lunch, 2:00 Virginia Woolf and Expeditions in Art and Film Leslie Hankins connected Mr. Ramsay’s fantasy of leading a polar expedition in To the Lighthouse with Ponting’s films of Scott’s fatal journey to the South Pole: very moving. Suzanne Bellamy showed slides of her nine years of printmaking and painting related to Woolf: moving and amazing to remember seeing her, nervous and unsure, nine years ago, presenting her work for the first time. I’ve seen her many times since and love watching her come into her own, talking about Woolf and printmaking and her lesbian feminist activism and life in the Australian bush.

4:00 Jed Esty’s Plenary Talk: “Unseasonable Youth, or Woolf’s Alternative Modernity” This was a dazzler, an amazing terrific talk (by a beloved friend, which is all the better), trying to answer the local questions on The Voyage Out, Woolf’s odd first novel: Why initiate possibilities only to have them end in death (as happens to the heroine)? Why stage this in South America (where Woolf never went)? And then, he put them in the larger context of the modernist bildungsroman, listing all the modernist character who seem like they should grow up but never do (Dorian Gray, Stephen Dedalus, Lord Jim, etc.).

5:30 a yummy Mediterranean buffet dinner with tapenade! Hooray for Lewis and Clark and the PNW, where campus catering is healthy and fun and not so cookie cutter safe.

6:30 Kathleen Worley’s one-woman show, “Virginia Woolf: A Spark of Fire. I’m an easy sell on these things—I’ve liked some pretty unpopular and loony performance pieces—but this was beyond great. Better than Eileen Atkins. Like being at a séance (in a good way). She stitched together texts from novels, stories, essays, and letters to create a rich celebration of Woolf’s life and art and, bless her, it did not end with a suicide but with a celebration of her achievement. I cannot really emphasize enough how terrific everyone thought this was. One sign of her excellence is that each of the next three plenary speakers stopped themselves in the middle of their talks to compliment her performance (I wish I could read this quote as well as Kathleen had, those of you lucky enough to hear Kathleen’s performance of this passage recall… etc.).

Then, a little bar-hopping with friends in the Pearl District.

I’m sure you’ve had your fill, but we’re only half way there. Stayed tuned for tomorrow’s edition…