Editor’s Note: Emma Slotterback is a student at Bloomsburg University who is writing a series of articles for Blogging Woolf in advance of the 25th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries, which will be held June 4-7 at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa. This is the first article in the series.
By Emma Slotterback
Dr. Tina Entzminger, chair of the Bloomsburg University English Department, with a book discussion group at the Emporium.
The Bookstore and the Shops at the Emporium have long been a haven for Bloomsburg’s off-beat types. Walk in on a Saturday morning and you’ll find friends in flowing skirts discussing the latest local novel, university students grabbing a cup of coffee, and children riffling through shelves of kindly-used fantasy novels.
On Thursday evenings this March and April, the Bookstore was filled with a different sort of off-beat type: students and teachers of modernist literature. Bloomsburg University English Department chair Tina Entzminger, in coordination with the 25th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, organized a series of lectures and discussions about Virginia Woolf and her female contemporaries.
Over cups of coffee, tea, and homemade malted milk balls, Bloomsburg faculty, students, and town residents discussed writers such as Djuna Barnes, Nella Larsen, Dorothy Richardson, Gertrude Stein, and of course Virginia Woolf herself. Guided by the knowledge of the English faculty, we discussed the larger questions posed by these women’s work: how should autobiography inform our interpretation of an artist’s work? Was Stein’s ego as large as Ernest Hemingway’s or was she poking fun? Is £500 and a room of one’s own really enough to become a self-actualized artist? Some discussions highlighted male and female inequality, while other discussions focused on queer theory and its implications within a certain story.
By hosting these reading groups, we hoped to embody the spirit of Woolf’s idea of the “common reader,” appealing to both the scholar-critic and the lay reader in pursuit of the simple pleasure of reading. One of our most dedicated participants was a woman enrolled in adult literacy courses, who tested her new skills with challenging material. The connections formed in the Bookstore this spring demonstrate the ability of Virginia Woolf’s work to appeal to all readers.