I recently attended and presented at the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association of Ireland and UK Biennial Conference. It took place in the University of Nottingham from the 21st to 23rd June 2013 under the theme, “The Lady Doth Protest: Mapping Feminist Movements, Moments, and Mobilisations.” The theme is well-suited to my research interests and I presented a paper called, “Lorna Dee Cervantes and a Transnational Poetics of Protest” in a panel called “Women Writing Resistance.” This paper is based on an article I recently published in The Forum for Inter-American Research, 5.1. called “Anti-Capitalist Critique and Travelling Poetry in the Works of Lorna Dee Cervantes and Rage against the Machine.”
The conference was live-blogged and tweeted, a method of dissemination that I am particularly enthusiastic about. My panel was live-tweeted by Michelle Green (University of Nottingham) and Emma Young (University of Salford [also our panel chair]):
#fwsaprotest Donna Maria Alexander representing American studies and border studies through travelling poetry and Lorna Dee Cervantes.
— Michelle Green (@MGnotts) June 22, 2013
Alexander: torture of women’s reproductive bodies highlights the violence and damage caused by imperialism and war #fwsaprotest
— Emma Young (@EmmaYoung22) June 22, 2013
#fwsaprotest Alexander: ‘Coffee’ documents massacre. Cervantes, like narrator, acts as the mouth of those silenced.
— Michelle Green (@MGnotts) June 22, 2013
The conference was interdisciplinary so I heard papers on many topics such as literatures, rape/revenge film, public health, oral histories of protest, representation of widows, and much more besides. While many of the papers bore no direct association to my research, they encouraged me to question and consider my work in terms of context, theoretical framework, methodology, etc. I also encountered many texts and films discussed in such an engaging fashion by speakers that I now have an extensive summer reading and viewing list to work through.
The conference also had many events, stalls and an exhibition to keep the attendees engaged and entertained. The first night saw a performance by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, a Queer Feminist Burlesque Collective. Although I missed the show in order to get an early night before my paper the next morning, I was regaled with information about it from the other attendees who were particularly entertained by the collective’s comedic Judith Butler references and reworkings of Disney songs like “Vagina Dentata” in lieu of “Hakuna Matata.” I love when conferences include interesting and unique entertainment in the programme. They are great ice-breakers and help people to wind down after long days of papers and networking.
During the three days, attendees could visit an exhibition, Music & Liberation: Women’s Liberation Music Making in the UK, 1970-1989. This exhibition covered how feminists used music as mode of activism to entertain, educate and mobilise women. It was a very interactive exhibition featuring an IPad with music that visitors could flick through and listen to at their leisure. There were also many DVDs to watch, as well as posters, props, sheet music, diaries and print media from the time. I like the idea of having an exhibition in tandem with a conference where possible. It provides a space for attendees to relax and enjoy during breaks – I certainly viewed/listened to the exhibition several times over the course of the conference. It also brings a new dimension to the traditional conference format, providing more than just 20 minute papers and keynotes for people to enjoy and learn from.
On the second night we were treated to a screening of Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years. It really was a treat. Due to my interest in women poets of the Americas I was already familiar with the poetry of Audre Lorde. I was not, however, aware of Lorde’s activities in Berlin. The documentary, directed by Dagmar Schultz, is a collage of footage taken of Lorde at public meetings, poetry readings, workshops, dinner parties and meetings with friends in Berlin. It also touched on Lorde’s battle with cancer. The result is a nostalgic and inspiring portrait of a Black American poet’s lasting transnational influence. The audience were clearly moved by this very powerful film and that emotion was also expressed on twitter:
— Claire O’Callaghan (@drclaireocall) June 22, 2013
— Finn Mackay (@Finn_Mackay) June 22, 2013
The Feminist Library had a stall at the conference with books (fiction, non-fiction), pamphlets, newsletters and buttons on sale. The three women, Ruth, Anne and Gail, overseeing the stall were so engaging, friendly and informative as well as generous with their time. It was a particular pleasure to meet Anne Rossiter, fellow feminist and Irish woman (also one of the co-founders of the London Irish Women’s Centre). It was wonderful chat about shared interests, acquaintances and issues in the Irish feminist movement and I hope we meet again in future.
In all, I have to say that the FWSA conference struck a wonderful balance between all the traditional expectations of a conference programme with a healthy number of panels and keynotes, as well as providing some very exciting and informative extras which I have just outlined. What this tells me is that the FWSA is an organisation that is not afraid to step outside of the academic norm and engage with other forms of scholarship like performance, exhibition and documentary. I also hope that the inclusion of organisations like The Feminist Library have helped to highlight the importance of such autonomous feminist spaces of meeting, organisation and research that exist outside of the university system. Such spaces are often underfunded and run by dedicated volunteers. The fact that the FWSA provided the Feminist Library with a space to exhibit their important work shows that such organisations are valued by those who need them.
I had such a rich and positive experience at this conference. I absolutely encourage others to get involved with the FWSA and consider participating in future conferences and events. I left Nottingham feeling somewhat bereft after three wonderful, stimulating and thought-provoking days of feminist and women’s studies scholarship. However, I also came away with a sense of renewed enthusiasm and confidence in my own research.