What To Expect From a Literary Conference….
…More specifically, the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts, or, as loyal attendees so lovingly call it, ICFA.
ICFA is an annual conference in late March down in Florida, where scholars and writers alike flock to discuss and celebrate fantastic storytelling. And by “fantastic,” I mean, Yes to dragons, Yes to Hunger Game and Hogwarts students, Yes to the slightly “irreal,” Yes to ghosts, zombies, and Yes to, whether you love them or hate them, vampires.
Conferences in general are good places to soak in present critical culture and to put an ear to what is being whispered in the literary air. Each literary conference has its own personality. But they all tend to have the following:
- Discuss ideas with peers and power figures in Critical Paper Panels. Each panel generally has three to four papers. ICFA generally has three. These papers have been grouped together by the division chair usually due to similar themes or discussion points. The chair of the panel manages the timing of the presentations, and moderates the Q&A session in after the presentations. Here is your chance to ask these scholars questions about their arguments, or even bring up one of your own ideas in relation to their presentations. For this year’s ICFA, panels included “Maps, Ankh-Morpork, and Game of Thrones,” “Fear of Fembots,” and “Monstrosity and Deviance in Supernatural Teen Dramas in Television.”
- Listen to chats among professionals in Discussion Panels. This type of gathering is usually made of three to five experts on the discussion topic. For example, this year’s ICFA held one on Masters and PhD Programs. Writers, professors, and chair of departments sat on the panel and imparted their knowledge and suggestions.
- Author Readings and Signings. Always a blast! You get to hear multiple authors read excerpts of their work, and get to ask how they became so awesome in the Q&A.
- Guest of Honor speeches. These are well worth the possible extra ticket price. They are usually the most formal presentations given at the conference. This year at ICFA, the writers-of-honor were China Miéville and Kelly Link, and the scholar-of-honor was Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Can you tell the theme this year was Monsters (aka, Awesome)?
- Chat with your favorite authors and critics at Banquets. At ICFA, guest of honor speeches are accompanied by banquets. These are great networking spaces. Sit next to people you don’t know. Discuss whatever you like. You never know what sort of connections you’ll make at these fun meals.
I have a personal fondness for ICFA. It’s a great first-timer conference. People are inviting and after a few years, start to form working friendships. It offers entertainments alongside the conference, such as Film Screenings and Expeditions (such as the “Moonlight History and Hauntings Tour”). This year, ICFA even offered Zumba classes at 6:30 a.m. to wake you up before the first panel at 8:30!
Conferences are interactive playgrounds. Here are some of the things you could do:
- Present a Paper. To do this, you will need to submit a proposal of your paper to the appropriate division chair. This proposal is generally due a few months before the actual conference. Once the division chair accepts your proposal, he/she will set you up in a panel. We all understand that papers morph as we work on them. So don’t worry if your presentation ends up being different than your proposal. We just want to hear your ideas!
- Volunteer. This might even get you a discount on the conference registration. But the best part is, it connects you with the people in charge of the conference, and it’s a great way to get involved.
- Chair a Panel. If you have presented a paper or have volunteered, those who know you (division chairs) might ask you to chair a panel. These are fun. You are the moderator, and you have the wonderful task of generating discussions and involving the presenters with each other as well as with the audience.
- Develop your own creative and critical work. This is partly why we’re all there. Conferences host writers and scholars in so many distinct fields. Go out there and talk. Have fun. Share an appetizer with your favorite writer. Aren’t you in nirvana?
Phew! Talking about all this makes me want to go gather my vacation days and go to another one this hot second. AWP is just over, but taking proposals for next year in Boston. Maybe ChLA or ALA in the summer. Or, how about the International Conference on Children’s Literature in Taiwan. Or the “Stranger in a Strange Land” conference in Canada. So many choices! I’m so blissful over our buzzing community.