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.

Announcing the Phyllis Blum Cole Award for Social Service

At the recent American Literature Association 2018 Conference, Margaret Fuller Society Members Jana L. Argersinger and Noelle A. Baker presented Past President Phyllis Cole with the Inaugural Phyllis Blum Cole Award for Social Service. Read their speech presenting Cole with the award below.

Noelle Baker, Phyllis Cole, and Jana Argersinger
Left to Right: Noelle Baker, Phyllis Cole holding award, and Jana Argersinger; Photo courtesy of Katie Kornacki

“Before we turn to other forward-looking matters, we should acknowledge our Past President for her inspiring leadership and immense drive, which have brought the Fuller Society into its second quarter-century.

As most of you know, Phyllis Cole in her three-year term directed a remarkable renovation of the Society.  She leaves us a notable legacy:  a greatly expanded membership and enhanced bank-account; a new, exciting website; a stimulating newsletter; Society presence on social media; a revised governance structure that reflects the new roles required by all these renovations; and renewed status at the annual MLA Convention.

In what I may hazard is perhaps the achievement dearest to her heart, Phyllis established the Society’s outreach into social action by forging a connection with the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House in Cambridge, MA.  You will recall that this community-based nonprofit with a century-old mission is housed in Fuller’s girlhood home.  It serves to provide a wide variety of programs to underprivileged families and individuals in the community, while in the process serving as well to propagate Fuller’s social ideals.

To honor Phyllis‘s achievement and to keep the memory of it alive, the Executive Council has voted to establish the Phyllis Blum Cole Award for Social Service.  The award will be given every three years to a Society Member that the Council recognizes as having worked in some significant way to promulgate the social ideals advanced by Margaret Fuller.  It is to take the form of a donation to the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House and a plaque to the recipient, engraved with one of Phyllis‘s favorite quotes from Fuller, taken from her December 1844 Tribune piece “Thanksgiving”: “No home can be healthful in which are not cherished seeds of good for the world at large.” As Fuller suggests in this article, the authentic spirit of that holiday is embodied in ever-widening acts of kindness and charity; these acts, in Fuller’s words,  “depend upon the great circle” of family, neighbors, friends, and society. We thank Phyllis for setting the standard for our own circle.

It is my great pleasure to announce that the first recipient of this award is Phyllis Cole.”

Phyllis Blum Cole Award for Social Service
Photo courtesy of Katie Kornacki

Featured image of Phyllis Cole holding award courtesy of Jana L. Argersinger.

12th Annual Sweet Soul Supper

This post was written by Margaret Fuller Society member and contributing author Michael Schrimper, who also provided the photos from the event.

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MIT’s Morss Hall, decorated for the event

On the evening of Thursday, June 15, the President of the Margaret Fuller Society, Phyllis Cole, was joined by three society members, Leslie Eckel, Megan Marshall, and Michael Schrimper, for the Twelfth Annual Sweet Soul Supper, held to benefit the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House of Cambridge. The event took place at MIT’s Morss Hall, featured live music, a silent auction, and a buffet.

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Phyllis Cole introduces Ellen Semonoff, winner of the Inaugural Margaret Fuller Women’s Leadership Award. Since the evening was packed with awards and speeches, Cole shared only one Margaret Fuller quote with the audience during her introduction, “If you ask me what offices [women] may fill, I reply–any….Let them be sea-captains, if you will.” Cole then pointed out that Ellen Semonoff hasn’t been a sea-captain, but instead a leader in responding to the needs of others–a vocation in fact closer to Margaret Fuller’s heart.
Halfway through the event, Phyllis Cole presented Ellen Semonoff with the Inaugural Margaret Fuller Women’s Leadership Award, for Semonoff’s lifelong contributions to the public. Semonoff has been Cambridge’s Assistant City Manager for Human Services; she leads a staff of 600 in providing child care, family support, youth programs, workforce development, adult basic education, recreation, fuel and nutrition assistance, homeless programs, and services to the elderly and disabled. She started her career as a lawyer in Washington, working as an assistant to Joseph Califano in Heath, Education, and Welfare and a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Semonoff was selected by the Margaret Fuller House for her contributions, and the House asked Cole to present the award in honor of Fuller, whose advocacy of women’s leadership they were also recognizing. Following Cole’s introduction, Semonoff received a standing ovation from the whole house.

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From left to right: Leslie Eckel, Michael Schrimper, Phyllis Cole, and Megan Marshall smile for a photo after enjoying a buffet of soul food. Dishes served include stuffed chicken breasts, roast beef, macaroni and cheese, and fried plantains. The silent auction featured a chance to bid on ice-cream-making sessions at a popular Cambridge ice cream shop and a session with a personal trainer at a Cambridge fitness center, among other items.

Michael Schrimper teaches in the Writing, Literature & Publishing department at Emerson College in Boston.