You’re All Invited!

Free-For-All Friday: You’re All Invited!

Okay, I know I said I would do a review of the second Sherlock Holmes movie, and I will try to do that on Monday, but I wanted to spread the news about something I’m a part of.

Here at University of Houston, we, the graduate students of the Literature program, are trying to build a larger community for sharing our work and learning about the work of others.  To do this, several UH Literature students started a new student-run academic journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature, and also decided to a host a conference: The University of Houston Graduate Student Literature Conference.

“Reviving and Revisioning Work: Examining Class in Literature and Language”

Second Annual Graduate Literature Conference

With Keynote Speaker Dr. Rosemary Hennessy

from Rice University’s Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality

Saturday 31 March 2012
Open to the Public

“Class in society is determined by voice” — Marshall McLuhan

Between the recession, partisan rhetoric about class war, and the current Occupy movement, class has moved to the forefront of American political consciousness. Class is also something we can’t avoid in the academy–whether we’re talking about the relative place of men and women (Schell); WPAs, professors, and TAs (Bousquet, Scott); literature and composition (Miller); the university and the community (Mathieu); undergraduate students; or the literary canon and authors that we study. This is a kairotic moment to reexamine our assumptions about class and look more deeply at the class implications in our literature, our languages, our classrooms, and our communities.

We invite presenters to consider topics that include classroom experiences and literary research, but as this is Houston, we also invite you to consider and focus on issues of class in the Houston area. Our city is brimming with local writing– fiction, nonfiction, poetry, music — populating coffeehouses and bars alike. How is class represented in local literature as well as global and “canonized?”

As you may be able to tell, this is the second annual conference. Last year was the inaugural conference, and it went very well, if I do say so myself.  I presented a paper, and enjoyed listening to the work of my fellow UH graduate students, as well as several graduate students from other universities (including one who came all the way from New Mexico).  And then the first volume of Plaza was published, featuring the papers that were presented at the conference.  This year we are really hoping to spread the news, and gain a wider audience and a wider group of conference presenters.

To that end, I would like to extend this invitation to all of my blog followers.  Even though it’s called the “Graduate Student Literature Conference” (that’s only because we’re the ones running it), this conference is open to all undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines.  We are looking for presentations that fit this year’s theme of class.  In other words, we are looking for student-written critical research and creative non-fiction works that examine the role of socio-economic class structures in such things as literature, rhetoric, composition studies, folklore and ethnography, language and cultural studies, linguistic studies, technical writing, and gender studies (among others).  However, there are always a couple panels open for non-theme-related presentations as well, so please submit an abstract proposal even if you don’t think it fits the theme.

Some Things To Know:

1)     Abstract Proposals should be approximately 250 words in length.

2)     Abstract Proposals are due by January 30th, 2012.

3)     You will be informed of acceptance by February 15th, 2012.

4)     Individual Presentations should be 15-18 minutes in length in order to allow time for questions.

5)     For more information, include contact information, presentation guidelines, and submission procedures please see the UH Graduate Student Conference Website.

So, that’s what I’ve got, folks.  I know at least some of you are undergraduate and graduate students.  And I know some of you don’t live all that far away either, so travelling to Houston for a weekend wouldn’t be that difficult.  I urge you all to dig through all those papers you’ve written in the semesters and see if you can find one that would fit the theme (or even one that doesn’t), that you could dust off, clean up, and present.  Or, perhaps there’s a half-started research project that you’ve been meaning to work on?  Here’s the opportune moment!

I and others would really love to see this conference become a big deal someday, and it all starts with getting some presenters from outside the UH school system to come and present and spread the word themselves.

I hope we hear from you!

Have a good weekend, and see you on Monday!

Banned Books Week 2011

Bookworm Wednesday: Banned Books Week 2011

As most readerly and writerly types know, this week is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association and a number of other groups try to bring awareness to the American public about the vast problem of book censorship in this country.  Every year groups and individuals challenge and attempt to censor or ban a large variety of books from schools, curriculums, libraries, and bookstores.  People offer any number of reasons for censoring a book: inappropriate language, inappropriate sexuality, religious concerns, the promotion of “rebellious” behaviors, etc.  But, while it is true that some care needs to be taken in when and how you expose certain age groups to certain activities, themes, etc., this kind of censorship is always a fearful, knee-jerk reaction that rarely reflects any true “danger” in the book in question.  And wholesale censorship of any kind is just plain wrong.  Period.

Also, Banned Books Week is in its 30th year now, which is a pretty impressive mile-stone.

To learn more about this kind of censorship, Banned Books Week, the books that are challenged most often, and things you can do about it, you can go to:

The Banned Books Week Official Site

The ALA Banned Books Week Page

Wikipedia Page on Banned Books Week (which offers a little history on the event)

I have been bothered this week by the complete lack of any mention of Banned Books Week on the University of Houston campus.  I realize that state colleges do not have to deal with the same problems of censorship and challenges to books and free speech as K-12 schools and public libraries do, and this is a wonderful thing (though that thing about free speech is looking a little shaky after this incident).  However, this sense of safety enjoyed in colleges should make them the perfect place to start the conversation against censorship of any kind, but especially of books and literacy.

I myself have wanted to discuss the topic with the students in my Composition class.  However, I have so far been unable to figure out how to make the conversation anything more than: “Hey guys, did you know it’s Banned Books Week?”  I want to do more than simply mention it in passing at the beginning or ending of class; however, I simply don’t know how to effectively and legitimately make it a matter of discussion in a class on argumentation and of interest to college Freshmen and Sophomores.  The resources and discussions offered by the ALA website and others mainly focus on K-12 and public libraries, and does not translate well to college students.

So, what I guess I’m trying to say is: if anyone has any suggestions for ways I can bring the conversation into a college classroom meaningfully, I would appreciate it.  It’s probably a little too late to do much with it this year (my class only meets Tues and Thurs), but I’d love some ideas for next year.  I’m also thinking about ways I can get the campus as a whole more involved next year.  Maybe a Banned Book drive?  That we can arrange to be sent to places where books are being censored?  It’s a thought anyway…

In the meantime, go the ALA website and check out the list of Most Banned Books for 2010-2011, and see how many of your favorites made the list.  I think for the me, the one I love most but am not particularly surprised about is Slaughterhouse-Five.  The two books that I also love, and whose inclusion surprises me a little, are Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Which of your favorite books made the list?  What kinds of things do you (or can you) do for Banned Books Week?  And if you have any suggestions for my classroom, that would be awesome!