American Literature Association 2018 Conference Recap

This post was written by Margaret Fuller Society member and contributing author Michael Schrimper.

From May 24-27, 2018, members of the Fuller Society gathered in San Francisco at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero for the 27th Annual conference of the American Literature Association. Over the course of the four days, the Society held two panels, a successful business meeting, and one dinner with a lovely view of the Bay.

On Friday afternoon’s panel, “Margaret Fuller: In the Classroom and Beyond,” which was chaired by Larry Reynolds (Texas A&M University), the first presenter was Holly Dykstra (Laredo Community College). In her paper “Using Fuller to Teach Fuller: Creating Agency and Security,” Dykstra outlined the ways in which Fuller serves as something of a role model for her students (some of them first generation or undocumented) at her college near the border of Mexico. Dykstra examines the concepts behind Fuller’s Conversations—“immersing others in challenging academic situations, encouraging shared knowledge, and spreading education to those who lack agency”—as a way for her students to not only relate to Fuller, but potentially see Fuller’s will and work as models for their own. Callie Gallo (Fordham University) presented “Teaching Margaret Fuller, Fanny Fern, and the Nineteenth-Century Press in the Wake of #MeToo,” drawing startling connections between nineteenth-century scenes of male aggression and sexual violence and news stories unfolding in our contemporary climate. Lesli Vollrath (University of Houston) presented “Elemental Bodies: Mapping the Materialist Cartographies of Margaret Fuller’s ‘Leila’ and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Classroom,” providing an overview for teaching Fuller’s and Chopin’s texts through critical frameworks ranging from Hélène Cixous’s “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1976) to Stacy Alaimo’s New Materialist concept “trans-corporeality.” These frameworks, Vollrath suggests, create relational possibilities for the female body in its environment. Nanette Rasband Hilton (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) also gave a paper concerned with Fuller’s “Leila,” “Praxis of Duality: The Sisterhood of Fuller’s ‘Leila’ and DuBois’s ‘Atlanta.’” Hilton’s paper demonstrated the potential of a reader’s own ipseity to promote “multiple social identities with awareness of crosscutting memberships.” At this notably well-attended panel, Hilton led a moment of silence to honor the memory of prodigious Fuller scholar Professor Jeffrey Steele.

Out of NE5
Photo courtesy of Katie Kornacki

On Saturday’s panel, “Margaret Fuller: Out of New England,” chaired by Society Treasurer Noelle Baker (Independent scholar), Simone Puelo (University of Connecticut, Storrs) presented “Of Good and Noble Aspect: Margaret Fuller, Catholicism and Pius IX (1847-1850),” tracing Fuller’s ambivalent views of Catholicism and Pius IX, as well as her criticism of theocratic monarchy and the Papal State. Puelo sees many of Fuller’s critiques of the Church as “emancipatory” in nature, exposing the institutional injustices common Catholics faced. Clemens Spahr (Mainz University, Germany) presented “Romantic Revolutions: Cosmopolitan Radicalism in Margaret Fuller’s Dispatches from Europe,” which reads Fuller’s European dispatches for Horace Greeley’s the New-York Tribune as “not a refutation of her earlier Transcendentalism,” nor a “simple continuation” of that project, but, rather, a “rewriting” of her Romanticism. Katie Kornacki (Caldwell University) gave a paper entitled “‘The Morning Star of Margaret Fuller’: The Woman’s Club Movement and the Legacy of Fuller’s Conversations,” outlining Fuller’s continuing influence in women’s clubs across the United States. Michael Schrimper (Independent scholar) presented a transatlantic study, “Who’s Afraid of Margaret Fuller?: Literary and Biographical Connections Between Virginia Woolf and Margaret Fuller,” delineating the ways in which Fuller, in “The Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain” in particular, anticipates the high Modernist feminist narratology of Virginia Woolf’s experimental 1917 sketch, “Kew Gardens.”

Phyllis with award 2
Photo courtesy of Jana L. Argersinger

Prior to Saturday’s panel and business meeting, Fullerites gathered for a Friday evening dinner at Sens, a warmly-lit Mediterranean restaurant overlooking the Bay Bridge. Before partaking in a meal including grilled Spanish octopus and dry-aged rack of lamb, Society members watched as Treasurer Noelle Baker presented the first inaugural Phyllis Blum Cole Award for Social Service to its eponymous original recipient. In giving reasons for her receiving the award, Baker cited Cole’s: forging a relationship between the Society and the Margaret Fuller House of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a non-profit organization propagating Fuller’s social ideals; and her vital role as President of the Society, which, in her three-year tenure, saw Cole expanding membership, increasing funds, generating a Society newsletter, renewing panel status at MLA, establishing a new Society website, and revising Society governance structure, among other feats. Society members watched with admiration as Baker presented Cole with a plaque engraved with Fuller’s words from her 1844 New-York Tribune piece, “Thanksgiving:” “No home can be healthful in which are not cherished seeds of good for the world at large.” A similar plaque will be presented, to quote the speech written by Baker and current Society President Charlene Avallone, “every three years to a Society Member” whom the Executive Council “recognizes as having worked in some significant way to promulgate the social ideals advanced by Margaret Fuller.” In addition to the plaque, the award it is to take the form of a donation to the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House.

To top off the occasion in honor of Professor Phyllis Cole, there were cheers of congratulations, along with heartfelt wine toasts, all around.