California State University, Long Beach
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CSULB to Co-host Modernist Studies
Association Conference in Long Beach Nov. 1-4

CSULB’s College of Liberal Arts and its Departments of English and Women’s Studies will co-host this year’s annual conference of the Modernist Studies Association with USC and the Johns Hopkins University Press meeting Nov. 1-4 at the Westin Hotel in Long Beach.

This year’s conference, titled “Geographies of Literary and Visual Cultures,” will explore issues of modernist geography broadly configured as the intersection of literary, visual and cultural spaces. Topics will include how technologies of travel and communication made the “modern” possible; international modernism and geomodernism; tourism and the burgeoning film age.

“We’re very excited about this,” said conference co-organizer Elyse Blankley, who occupies a joint position between English and Women’s Studies at CSULB. “We expect an attendance between 700-800 for 145 panels, seminars, keynote addresses and round tables in the course of four days, so this is likely to be the largest conference we’ve had so far.”

The Modernist Studies Association, a branch of the Modern Language Association, is a worldwide organization of scholars who share an interest in the art and literature from 1900-40. “Many of our presenters are major names in their fields,” said Blankley, who joined the university in 1986. “Scholars are coming in from Yale, Brown and Princeton, not to mention Cambridge, Oxford and London University. Plus, there will be representatives from throughout the CSU including San Francisco State, Fresno State, CSU Stanislaus, San Diego State, CSU Northridge and Cal State L.A. This is very good for us.”

Featured speakers will include USC’s Joseph Boone, the University of Pennsylvania’s Thadious Davis and Stanford’s Marjorie Perloff.

Hosting such a venue is especially prestigious for a teaching-oriented campus such as CSULB. “The fact we are co-hosting with USC is a feather in our cap,” she said. “It gives us a tremendous amount of visibility. It puts us on the map.”

The panels range in topics from “Poetry and the Print Marketplace” to “Modern Tourism: Geographies of Desire” to “Modernism and the Spectacle of Fascism.”

Blankley will host a panel on “Filming the Modernist Text.” The British may disparage the period films of Merchant-Ivory and EM Forster as 'frock flicks' but they are very challenging to adapt,” she said. When you ask the average person what names they are familiar with from the period such as Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, James Joyce and William Faulkner, they are familiar with the films made from their works. The modernist period was the first where artists engaged with new technologies. For instance, Joyce tried to open the first movie theater in Dublin. They all were fascinated by the things film could do.”

The effects of the conference will be felt through research. “Our conference will spawn real academic achievement over the next several years,” she said. “That’s one of the great things about these events. What other way is there to get together with colleagues from Oxford, the University of Ghent and the University of South Carolina all in one room?”

One reason for the continued interest in the period is its geographic appeal. “The central geographic locations such as London’s Bloomsbury district or avant garde Paris carry a romantic appeal of a like-minded group of artists clustered in a particular area where they could exchange ideas,” she said. “It is the appeal of the poets of Chicago vying with Eugene O’Neill in Provincetown.” There was fluid interaction between artists in different areas.”

Blankley expects student participation to encourage undergraduates and graduates alike in their pursuit of higher education. “Our undergraduates today are the PhDs of tomorrow,” she said. “We’re waiving conference fees for the students who volunteer to help. We want them to have the opportunity of attending keynote speakers, panels and receptions. Plus, many of our students are the first in their families to receive a university education. This conference demonstrates that CSULB is the gateway for students who never thought they would end up in a university.”

Blankley encourages scholars and students alike to participate in the conference. “We’re having a Friday night reception on board the Queen Mary, which was seen as one of the great technological achievements of the period,” she said. “Artists were commissioned to create decoration and furniture for the ship, and I think that underlines this conferences’ focus on the historical record.”

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