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Archive for October 12th, 2019

Stefano Rozzoni, a doctoral student at the University of Bergamo in Italy, at his first international Virginia Woolf conference, the 29th, held at Mount St. Joseph University, June 6-9 this year

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a new series of posts that will offer a global perspective on Woolf studies, as proposed by Stefano Rozzoni at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Blogging Woolf at bloggingwoolf@yahoo.com.

It has been a little more than four months since I attended the Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf for the first time. And it is more than a decade since I first read – as a nonconventional teenage boy with a peculiar inclination for theatre and the countryside, and definitely with no clear idea of what literature meant – the legendary opening line of what soon would become one of the most important books in my life: 

“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

La Signora Dalloway

Perhaps it was the middle of August, since I vividly remember going to the library by bike, that I first asked my librarian for a copy of La Signora Dalloway – which is what we call the novel in Italy. At that time I read only a few pages before giving up the effort. It was a little confusing and difficult for me to get much meaning from those pages. Nevertheless, I did think that it was magnificently written. Also, I remember taking an oath: I would return to her works with a more mature perspective. I suppose that this was the moment when I fell in love with what was, at that time, a fascinating, a bit austere, an elegant, and above all, a nonconventional writer. 

A trio of conference attendees: Todd, Cecilia, and Michael

(It seems that outsiders get along with one another…) 

On that day I would have never, EVER, E-V-E-R thought that I would one day attend an extraordinary event such as the International Conference on Virginia Woolf. And not only one of the many, but the main reunion for Woolfian scholars who are spread all over the world. It was a very special moment, a gathering of great minds, creative researchers, and inspiring people…the kind of nonconventional (once again!) creatures you feel like you cannot do without once you have met them, and who actively contribute to making the world a better place.

A world full of Woolf readers and scholars

And when I say “the world” I am not just using one of those hyperbolic literary embellishments to sound more polite and somehow kinder than how one actually is. You do not need this façade with the Woolfians. You only need to be open and sincere, to not hesitate to show your passion, and to freely live your literary vocation. The rest follows.

During the conference one can really perceive that it is all about a generous, wide-spread community, which not only welcomes you in a surprisingly warmhearted way, but which also develops a closeness that results in an inspiring exchange of email, Facebook messages and pictures long after you have returned home. As international as this community is, it is not difficult to (unexpectedly) bump into some of its members in many other places around the world, especially during conferences. It has already happened twice to me in less then one month.

Perhaps these are the natural habitats of this valuable species, which, by the way, I would consider far from being endangered if you think that wherever you go, you can easily meet somebody going: “I love Virginia” / “Have you read The Waves?” / “I am totally a Bloomsberry!” / “Oh, Nicole Kidman, you know, the one playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours” (disclaimer: all these are original quotations that I have collected only in the last few weeks!). 

Conference participants lounge among the books at the Mercantile Library during a conference reception titled “Hours in a Library.”

The world may be big, but the Woolfian community is definitely bigger. And it was not Cincinnati which made me aware of this, for the geographical constraints of boot-shaped Italy did not prevent me from understanding how vivid the sense of belonging in this field is.

One can just look at the success of the Italian Virginia Woolf Society: despite being founded only two years ago, it has already reached more than 3,000 followers on social media, and it has organized countless sold-out events, including the first ever Italy-based Dallowday in the marvellous setting of Cappella Farnese in Bologna in June. I still remember the excitement of seeing some of the greatest and most inspiring homegrown super-stars related to Woolfian studies packed into one room. It was a real “room of her own” in which, in fact, I could not fit since there were too many people in it.

New guy in town

One thing that I have learned from this year’s conference, which I will treasure forever, is the idea that the “new guy” is to be respected and valued just like the hard-core members, whose meticulous and constant effort made the growth of the community possible. Hearing about the importance of supporting young generations of Woolfians (something I was told by several people who, in my eyes, were still very young and energetic – some rare qualities in academia!) was just one of those pats on the back that you do not often receive when taking the first steps in a new environment.

Hardworking Mount St. Joseph University students who were part of the Woolfpack that helped pull of this year’s conference

Similar to putting into practice the principles of inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination expressed in Virginia’s writing, this special Woolfpack (I owe this expression to the brilliant organizer of the conference, Drew Shannon, in reference to his talented students!) has offered me a real chance to experience a sense of hope in relation to the idea that, by committing to a daily praxis, you can act upon macropolitics, especially in relation to issues of social justice, which was the very focus of this year’s discussions.

It has been a little more than four months since the conference, but it seems to me that it is not over yet because the learning from one another, the taking and exchanging of ideas and suggestions, and above all, the chance to share our passion about literature is still ongoing.

And I bet that it will continue for a long time…

Comaraderie among a table full of Woolfians at the conference banquet

More Woolf scholars feast on food and conversation at this year’s conference banquet. At far left is organizer Drew Shannon.

Another table full of Woolfians at the conference banquet, including Kristin Czarnecki, president of the International Virginia Woolf Society, third from left.

More Woolf scholars and common readers with Stefano Rozzoni second from right.

A long shot of this year’s conference banquet, where novice and experienced Woolf scholars and common readers shared food, drink, and ideas.

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