Thursday, March 24, 2016

Decennial conference

I wrote last June about a conference to which I’d been invited as a Special Guest. As that conference is only a week away now, I’m late sharing more details, but here they are anyway. If you’re anywhere within striking distance of northwestern Arkansas and have an interest in the Inklings, I’d encourage you to register to attend. The conference website is It runs from next Thursday afternoon through the middle of Saturday at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, right in the heart of the Ozarks.

Although I am not a keynote speaker — for that, we have Devin Brown and Charlie Starr — I will be doing a number of different things as a specially invited guest.

On Thursday around lunch time, I’m going to meet with undergraduate English majors at JBU (and anyone else interested) to talk about my day-job as a Senior Writer at Microsoft, my side-hustle as an independent scholar, and the various writing and editorial jobs I have or have had (technical publications, Mythprint, CSLIS books, the board of the Mythopoeic Press, etc.). The hope is to expand their view of the profession and to inspire them about job prospects for English majors. JBU wants more of them to realize they can do things other than teach, that there are many kinds of interesting jobs for people who analyze texts. The Creative Writing majors at JBU outnumber the Lit majors, and so they’re hoping both camps of English majors will get ideas from me about how to “professionalize” their passions for writing/editing.

A little later on Thursday, I’ll be joining Jonathan Himes, the Chair of this year’s conference, to conduct a Mythopoeic Workshop. With a couple of others, including Charlie Starr, we’ll be doing a dramatic reading, giving listeners an idea of what a typical meeting of the Inklings was like (I’m Tolkien, of course!), then discussing the Inklings’ mythopoeic methods of inspirations. We’ll talk about how Tolkien was inspired by language, Lewis by pictorial imagery, and Williams by poetry (among other things). We’ll ask the audience to participate directly by discussing today’s fantasy writers, how they are inspired, how their mythopoeic methods differ (if and when they do) from the Inklings’, and so on.

Friday afternoon, I’ll act as moderator for an informal session to meet the keynote speakers and writers/editors in the CSLIS. We’ll do book signings, meet-and-greet, etc. I think I still have a few copies of my book to take with me. It is still selling a few copies here and there, nearly five years on, and gosh, that is gratifying!

On Saturday, I’ll be giving my own paper on Tolkien, Foucault, and premodern and poststructuralist conceptions of authorship. This is a paper I intended for a collection years ago, but at the time I had too many irons in the fire and couldn’t get to it. I didn’t want to hold up the collection, so I withdrew from it. Funnily enough, that collection ended up taking five years more to prepare, so I probably could have stayed involved, but c’est la vie. Anyway, the theme of this year’s conference (“Is Man a Myth?”) offered a convenient nudge to return to the topic at last. And so I have.

And finally, I’ll moderate a closing panel with the keynote speakers in which we’ll try to rummage through everything we’ve collectively heard during the conference, discuss points of interest, directions for new work, and so on. We’ll take additional questions from the conferees and then wrap for the year.

It should be a wonderful event! I’ve been to this conference seven times before, and I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed it. As I wrote in my previous post, this year marks special significance for me, because it was ten years before almost to the day, also at this conference, also at JBU, where I delivered my first-ever conference paper — with Tom Shippey in my audience, no less! Since then, I’ve presented papers or talks of one sort or another more than 20 times in 9 different US states. I haven’t been to a conference outside the US yet (I was invited to come to one in England as a Special Guest a few years ago, but alas, too expensive!), but I do have my eye on one this September in Canada, a mere three-hour drive from home.

I’ll write up a conference report on CSLIS 19 as soon as I can, so that even if you can’t make it to the event yourselves, you’ll get some idea of what it was like. And maybe feel inspired to come next year. In the meantime, here is the conference report I wrote for CSLIS 13 for anyone interested.

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