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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

May 6, 2015: NeMLA 2015 Recaps: Three Amazing Performances

[This past weekend, the Northeast MLA held its annual spring conference in Toronto. I was there in my official capacity as the organization’s Vice President, as well as a presenter and audience member, and wanted to follow up on a handful of the many interesting things that took place. Leading up to a weekend post on how you can help me plan next year’s conference in Hartford!]
On one thing that stood out to me about each of the conference’s three opening performances.
1)      The 2015 conference opened with a creative reading and performance by Tobago-born, Toronto-based poet, author, and scholar M. NourbeSe Philip. Philip both read excerpts from a personal essay in progress and performed (along with her daughter-in-law) pieces from her book-length poem Zong! (2008). The hour-long performance was never anything but riveting—but I was especially struck by the moment when, amidst chants of the names of murdered African slaves from Zong!, Philip interjected, “Trayvon, Mike, Erik.” I can’t imagine a more visceral or affecting link of past to present.
2)      Following directly on Philip’s performance was a talk and reading by Madeleine Stratford, a poet, translator, and professor of translation. Stratford gave a multi-layered presentations on poetry, translation, language, and what those complementary creative forms and acts can help us understand and engage with. I learned a lot and was provoked to think a lot further by many of her points and ideas, but was especially moved by her final hope for the conference to follow: that it be a celebration of language. Stratford’s perspective, like this conference, remind us that language is far from just a discipline or niche—it’s what defines and connects us all.
3)      And there was the keynote, on the conference’s second night. I wrote back in this January preview post about President Daniela Antonucci’s plans for a truly ground-breaking keynote, an interdisciplinary performance that would combine scholarship, music and song, images and the visual arts, and dance. Well thanks to both Daniela’s vision and the inspiring talents of Christopher Innes, Brigitte Bogar, and a pianist and young dancer whose names I don’t know, the performance went off perfectly. Indeed, this keynote has fundamentally changed the game for my own conference next year, and all NeMLA conferences to follow—and I couldn’t be more excited to see how I can follow up these great performances.
Next recap tomorrow,

PS. Were you at NeMLA 2015? I’d love to hear your follow ups as well—or your thoughts on this post even if you weren’t there!

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