Volume 28, Number 5:  March 2010

From the Chair  |  In Print  |  Panels & Presentations  |  Awards & Appointments  |  Miscellany  |  From the Editor

The Common Reader

The Beginning of a Tradition ...
the first EGSO Conference
March 27, 2010

Crack open the heads of some of the English Department's graduate students, and you'll find that almost everything but the kitchen sink falls out. This is, mind you, a good thing, and not just the result of a severe case of information overload. William Faulkner, zombies, Harry Potter, Mark Twain, racial dynamics, and creative readings galore were just some of the topics covered at this year's first annual English Graduate Student Conference held on campus in the Bate building on March 27th, 2010. The conference was organized by the English Graduate Student Organization (EGSO) to allow students the opportunity to present their ideas and research in a format similar to any academic conference in the world. The difference between this conference and others, however, is very important. The EGSO conference invites papers and topics from all areas of study, noting that any submission will be accepted and granted a time slot on the bill. Students were invited to submit proposals for any type of work ranging from paper presentations to roundtable discussions, and even including creative readings. This loosely organized set of regulations gave students the opportunity to test the waters of the conference world without investing time and money in a trip out of state to what can be an intimidating and stressful experience for first-timers.

The idea for the conference came about during an EGSO meeting when members and faculty advisors expressed the need for an introduction to the life of academia for ECU's graduate students. Presenting ideas and research at conferences is an essential step in becoming part of the larger academic community. EGSO members worked with faculty advisors Ken Parille and Jim Kirkland to set the necessary things in motion to achieve a conference by year's end.

The Conference began with an engaging roundtable discussion by Tessa vonHilsheimer, Phillip Brown, and Will Angel of the Harry Potter novels and their place as legitimate literature in the university classroom, moderated by Ken Parille. Graduate students Celestine Davis, Suzanne Stotesbury, Myleah Kearns, and Barbara Salvadori then presented a roundtable discussion concerning the role of teachers, tutors, and students in the writing process, emphasizing a student-oriented environment in the classroom. Professor Wendy Sharer moderated the discussion. The next panel titled "Literacy, Politics, and Order" was composed by Brittany Beck, Katherine Faron and Cheryl Scott, moderated by Professor Anne Mallory. Beck's paper on T.S. Eliot’s "Wasteland" aimed to define "high-modernism".  Faron's paper used Twain's view of democracy in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to remind readers that we (citizens) are solely responsible for reforming our own governments.  The panel closed with Scott's paper on discursion in Edward Jone's The Known World. Discursive writing, Scott maintained, always serves a purpose in the novel, allowing a dialogue between reader and author to take place, cultural connections to be made, highlighting reader prejudice along the way.

There was also a poster session during the lunch hour from Christina Ruotolo on blood drives and the Twilight saga. Conference activities resumed after lunch with a panel on racial dynamics in Eastern North Carolina and the classrooms of ECU. This panel consisted of Brian Lampkin and LaTasha R. Jones, and it provided some of the most engaging discussion of the day. Dr. Donna L. Lillian later commented on the panel saying, "I was impressed with all the panels that I attended, but I was especially moved by the panel addressing race. In an environment in which we are supposed to believe that we are all 'post-racial', it takes courage and integrity to stand up and point out that the emperor has no clothes, in other words, that Whiteness continues to be privileged and Blackness (i.e. Non-Whiteness) continues to be marginalized, right here, right now, in Eastern North Carolina." The session was moderated by Professor Joyce Middleton.

Coming next on the schedule were Celestine Davis and Chris Meyers. Davis used the Grimké sisters to look at African American women abolitionists and white mistresses in literature, and Meyers's research discussed the evolution of the cinematic zombie as we know it in America. Meyers explained that the widespread popularity of the zombie film was due to its extremely visual narrative. Professors Dana Harrington and Jim Kirkland moderated the panel.
The evening took a turn towards the terminally intellectual as the doctoral students got their chance to present papers in a panel, moderated by Michelle Eble called "Professional Communication's Role in the Polis." Alexis Poe Davis, Trisha Capansky, and J.A. Dawson discussed their current areas of research in communication and rhetoric. Capansky suggested the effectiveness of the Declaration of Independence in Europe was due, in part, to the medium in which it was presented -- a broadside, usually used to post news of murders in the town. The evening was brought to a fitting close with an exposition of some of ECU's finest creative writers -- Jeff Evans, Stephen Jackson, Latasha R. Jones, and Justin Kingery.  "The prose reading panel highlighted the work of ECU Creative Writing students," said moderator John Hoppenthaler. "The pieces presented ranged widely in both content and style, and it all made for a notable conclusion to the event.  EGSO and Ken Parille have much to feel proud about, and I hope this will become a yearly event.  It's good for students, and it's good for ECU."

Professor Tom Herron commented that "it was terrific to interact with graduate students on a professional level and, here at ECU, to hear papers on topics far outside of my field." There was something for everyone at this conference, and, thanks to those supporting EGSO, there will be for some time now.

--Will Angel

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