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Archive for the ‘19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf’ Category

Men Explain Things to Me front coverWoolfians who attended the 2009 conference in New York, Woolf in the City, were treated to a keynote address by Rebecca Solnit. In person as in her prose, Rebecca paints beautiful word pictures and reflect thoughtfully on their significance.

Her talk wasn’t included in the selected papers from that conference, but now she has published it as “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” in her newest book, Men Explain Things to Me. The essay’s title in this volume is taken from Woolf’s 1915 diary entry: “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.” In noting the relevance of Woolf’s work today, Solnit says: “Here we are, after all, revisiting the words of a woman who died three quarters of a century ago and yet is still alive in some sense in so many imaginations, part of the conversation, an influence with agency.”

The title essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” may go down in history as a feminist classic along with Judy Brady’s “I Want a Wife” in the 1972 inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine. And, no surprise, Solnit evokes Woolf in her jibe at male (some, not all, she allows) know-it-allness: “A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch—even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf’s long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie.”

Virginia Woolf is clearly a strong influence and appears in almost all of Solnit’s work. In her last book of personal essays, The Faraway Nearby, she is motivated to dig deeper into reflections about her mother by Woolf’s example and words in Moments of Being: “It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole.” Rebecca Solnit puts her stories and arguments into words in a way that does credit to Woolf.

 

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Woolf and the City: Selected Papers from the Nineteenth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf is now available from the Clemson University Press.

Edited by Elizabeth F. Evans and Sarah E. Cornish, the volume collects important essays chosen from the nearly 200 papers delivered at the Nineteenth Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, hosted at Fordham University.

The 25 essays are organized around six themes:

  • Navigating London
  • Spatial Perceptions and the Cityscape
  • Regarding Others
  • The Literary Public Sphere
  • Border Crossings and Liminal Landscapes
  • Teaching Woolf, Woolf Teaching

The volume also includes all of the keynote speeches, along with a transcript of the panel “Inspired by Woolf” that featured Katherine Lanpher, Dr. Ruth Gruber, Susan Sellers and Kris Lundberg. Megan Branch, who also writes for Blogging Woolf, crafted the introduction for the piece and prepared the transcript.

Contributors include Molly Hite, Mark Hussey, Tamar Katz, Eleanor McNees, Kathryn Simpson and Rishona Zimring.

In the interests of full disclosure, my essay, “Woolf in the Cyber City: Connecting in the Virtual Public Square,” is included in the volume.

View the full publication as a PDF or order a copy.

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News blogs and Web sites are busy publishing ruminations about books and writing. Here are links to a few with connections to my favorite author. Virginia Woolf, of course.

  • In the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Stott names Woolf’s Orlando as number two in a list of the top five works of historical fiction.
  • A Seattle Post-Intelligencer reader blog, written by a local librarian named Ann G., is “Looking back at reading by the decade.” In the post, Ann picks her favorite book by decade. For the 1930s, her choice is The Years. The novel, Woolf’s last published in her lifetime, was praised by the New York Times as her “richest novel” when it came out in 1937. It became a best seller in the United States that year. As a result, Woolf was featured on the April 12, 1937, cover of Time magazine. The cover story compared Woolf to Margaret Mitchell, whose Gone With the Wind was a 1936 best seller.
  • In an ode to diaries on The Guardian’s Web site, writer Gyles Brandreth pays homage to an edited volume of Woolf’s diary entries. Brandreth praises the volume, titled A Moment’s Liberty: The Shorter Diary of Virginia Woolf, for including “a gem on every page.” Anne Olivier Bell is the editor.
  • Margaret Drabble opines about the unique genre of the short story on The Guardian Web site. In her piece, she says Woolf tried to emulate her rival Katherine Mansfield’s short story style. But Drabble finds Woolf’s style “less accomplished, and sometimes embarrassingly whimsical.”
  • The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009 includes at least two by authors who read Woolf. They include
    • Family Album by Penelope Lively, whose City of the Mind is clearly influenced by Mrs. Dalloway, and
    • A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit, plenary speaker at this year’s Woolf and the City, the 19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

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princeton bandI’m a bit late with this, but the New York Times published a music review of some Woolfians’ favorite band, Princeton, earlier this month.

The L.A.-based band got conference-goers rocking when it performed cuts from the album “Bloomsbury” at Woolf and the City in June.

If you missed the Times Sept. 11 review, “They’re Not Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” read it now.

You can also read more about the group’s “Bloomsbury” recordings here.

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Vanessa and VirginiaAuthors of novels about real people have great freedom, in the name of fiction, to carve out their territory. Virginia Woolf and her coterie seem to be frequent subjects of these bold interpretations, and Woolfians are irresistibly drawn to them, myself included.

In recent years I have added to my shelves Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury by Sigrid Nunez, But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury by Gillian Freeman, and of course Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. The latest is Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers.

An accomplished Woolf scholar, Sellers makes few departures from the lives of the sisters. At the recent Virginia Woolf Conference in New York, she confessed that she chose the form of a first-person monologue by Vanessa as she would have been terrified to try to speak in Woolf’s voice. Yet one can appreciate her creativity and the risk involved in this undertaking as she presents a provocative perspective.

Sellers conveys a forceful immediacy with Vanessa’s present tense narrative directed at Virginia, who is “you” throughout. The four shattering family deaths are related in the first three chapters, resounding, one after the other, with startling violence. Vanessa observes that, “If this were a work of fiction, instead of an attempt to discern the truth, then Stella’s death, coming so soon after Mother’s, would seem like malicious overload on the writer’s part” (35).

Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers

Her story is one of bitterness and relentless envy from the start, as she perceives Virginia usurping Thoby, Mother, and then Clive. She resents Virginia’s relationship with Leonard and Duncan’s with Bunny—someone else is always taking her place, and she has to care for everyone while no one takes care of her. Even Virginia’s illness becomes an accusation: “There was manipulation as well as helplessness in your loss of control. By relinquishing the burden to me, you ensured I remained in Mother’s place, parenting you, indulging you” (51).

Vanessa’s language is lyrical and painterly when speaking of the colors, textures and shapes in her paintings, but there’s little joy, and her art often seems like a sedative. Drawing classes in her youth enabled her to “forget your pain and Father’s misery and Stella’s cares” (27); she paints to avoid feeling. Self-disparaging comparisons to Virginia and a lack of confidence in her work lead to her cloying subservience to Duncan, in both art and life, and seem to diminish her as an artist and professional.

While Sellers skillfully and sensitively conveys the complexity and pathos of Vanessa’s life, she makes a few unnecessary forays. A few instances of foreshadowing seem gratuitous, but this is, after all, fiction.

Overall, I found it satisfying and compelling, and I read it from cover to cover on the day I departed New York following the Woolf Conference. It gave me food for thought as I descended from conference immersion and a long flight into daily life, and now, more than a month later, I find I’m still swishing it around, enjoying the flavor.

Vanessa and Virginia, by Susan Sellers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston/New York, 2009.

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twitterNow that my life has finally settled back down (a little), post-Woolf Conference, I can finally post about one of my very favorite things: Twitter.

Below, I’ve written a short guide to the social networking site that has become a huge sensation. Instead of Twitter for Dummies, this is Twitter for Woolfians to help everyone learn exactly what this Twitter thing is, and how Woolfians can use it to their advantage.

What is Twitter?
The short answer would be to say, as the site itself does, that Twitter is a 140-character answer to the question, “What are you doing?”

But Twitter is also a tool for making connections, for keeping up with connections you’ve already made, and it can also be a great way to keep your fellow Woolfians up-to-date on research, paper opportunities, and anything else that comes up.

Why use Twitter?
Many Woolfians are members of the fantastic VWoolf Listserv, and Twitter wouldn’t replace it. Rather, it’s an easy way to condense important information into short “Tweets.” These can then be tagged using “#”–#Woolf, for example–or by simply using the word “Woolf” in a Tweet.

This way, anyone looking for all things Woolf would only have to type “Woolf” in Twitter’s search bar to quickly see the many Woolfish conversations that are taking place, in realtime. (We used #Woolf19 for Tweets relating to the Woolf Conference, but it seems to have disappeared from the Internet.)

Here is a great video that details Twitter’s functions and provides a step-by-step guide to creating a Twitter account.

Finally, a few Woolfians who’ve already discovered the greatness that is Twitter:

Paula, from Blogging Woolf

Dr. Anne Fernald

Benjamin Harvey, art historian

Me!

If you have any questions, just Tweet!

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Cecil Woolf

Cecil Woolf

In a former life, I was a journalist. In another former life, I was a public relations and marketing person. So a week or two before Woolf and the City, I started thinking like both again.

Here’s why. I knew Cecil Woolf was coming to the conference. I knew the conference was in New York City. I knew New York City is full of media.

So I thought, “What journalist who covers the literary beat wouldn’t want to interview the nephew of Leonard and Virginia Woolf who is also an independent publisher?” None, I thought.

As it turns out though, either I was wrong or the current economic downturn has affected New York media more than I imagined. Only one media outlet, The Rumpus, responded to my pitch.

But respond they did, and this week the online magazine posted a fascinating interview with Cecil, as well as a first-person account of the conference. Both are written by Sasha Graybosch.

Thanks to conference organizer Anne Fernald and her intern Megan Branch for putting me in touch with The Rumpus. And thanks to Rumpus editor Rozalia Jovanovic for recognizing a good story when she sees one.

Here is a different view of Cecil on the Lux Lotus blog.

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