Posts Tagged ‘19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf’

One of the benefits of being a member of the International Virginia Society is receiving copies of the society’s publication, the Virginia Woolf Miscellany.

AnneMarie Bantzinger

The latest installment, Issue 98, is now online. It features the special topic “The First Thirty Annual (International) Conferences on Virginia Woolf,” edited by AnneMarie Bantzinger.

The collection, solicited in 2019, offers a collage of reminiscences and memories that evoke the conference experiences from multiple perspectives, those of organizers and participants.

Among them is one I wrote about the 2009 conference in New York City. I’m sharing it here.

Woolf and the City: Wow!

For a girl born in Brooklyn, transplanted to Ohio at the age of three, and engaged in a longtime love affair with both Virginia Woolf and New York, could there be anything better than a Woolf conference in New York City? I think not.

Conference organizer Anne Fernald and Megan Branch, Fordham student, at Woolf and the City

And that is why “Wow!” was my immediate reaction to Woolf and the City, the 19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. Ten years later that is still my emotional response when I think of that 2009 event, which is why I chose the New York City conference as my personal hands-down favorite among the ten Woolf conferences I have attended.

Held June 4-7 at Fordham University on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and organized by Anne Fernald, the conference was the second I had attended. But it was the first one I wrote about on Blogging Woolf, the site I created in July of 2007. Now, those blog posts, including one aptly titled “In the aftermath of Woolf and the City, one word — Wow!” help me recall the high points of the conference I described as “dynamite.”

Notable scholars, authors, readers

It featured 50 panels, attracted 200 Woolf scholars and common readers from around the globe, and introduced me to notable authors I never dreamed I would meet.

Ruth Gruber at Woolf and the City

One was Dr. Ruth Gruber, who died in 2016. Ninety-seven at the time of the conference, she was known as a journalist, photographer, and the author of Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman (1935).

She shared fascinating stories of her 1930s experiences as a journalist who visited the Soviet Arctic and a writer who met Virginia and Leonard Woolf in their Tavistock Square flat.

I remember chatting with this redhead curbside as she patiently waited for the cab that would take her home.

Novel writer and keynote speakers

Susan Sellers

Another was Susan Sellers, author of Vanessa and Virginia, the novel based on the relationship between sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, which was receiving rave reviews in the US at the time. I recall her graciousness as she signed books and chatted with readers.

Others I listened to, but did not meet, included keynote speaker Rebecca Solnit, a prolific author whose work is so timely and compelling today, and Tamar Katz of Brown University who spoke about the importance of “pausing and waiting” in life and in Woolf.

From a walking stick to rock music

What else struck my fancy? Here’s the list:

  • A visit to the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, where we were treated to a private viewing of pieces in the Virginia Woolf collection, including the walking stick rescued from the River Ouse after her death. Being there felt more sacred than church.
  • A performance of the 2004 play Vita and Virginia, written by Dame Eileen Atkins and directed by Matthew Maguire, director of Fordham’s theatre program.
  • A performance that combined rock-out music from an L.A. band called Princeton with dance from the Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre as the group performed cuts from its four-song album “Bloomsbury” based on the lives of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey.
  • And, of course, the cherished presence of Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson and their collection of Bloomsbury Heritage Series monographs, including my first, which debuted at that conference — Reading the Skies in Virginia Woolf: Woolf on Weather in Her Essays, Her Diaries and Three of Her Novels — making Woolf and the City extra memorable.

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson at Woolf and the City in 2009


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Bleeding Heart SquareThe recent conference theme of  Woolf and the City stimulated a number of papers that discussed Virginia Woolf in the context of contemporary writers and their works, making comparisons and noting similarities and influences in authors that included A.S. Byatt, Grace Paley, Zadie Smith, Sandra Cisneros, Ian McEwan and Penelope Lively.

My own presentation, “Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction,” noted just shy of 20 novels and short stories from the 1980s to the present time that contain references to Woolf. But the list keeps growing, and it includes some unexpected sources.

While I’ve focused primarily on literary fiction, a friend’s summer reading is more eclectic, and she sent me the following “sighting” from a recently released mystery, Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor. Early in the novel, which takes place in 1934 London, Lydia leaves her husband and packs A Room of One’s Own in her bag.

“Lydia was reading A Room of One’s Own and feeling increasingly envious of Mrs. Woolf:  ‘My aunt…died by a fall from her horse while she was riding out to take the air in Bombay. The news of my legacy reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that gave votes to women.  A solicitor’s letter fell into the post-box and when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year for ever. Of the two–the vote and the money–the money, I own, seemed infinitely the more important.’ Five hundred a year? The money shone like a mirage, a littering pile of gold, in Lydia’s mind. If a woman had that, she could do almost anything she wanted” (p. 36).

Read a review of the Taylor novel.

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Princeton t-shirtOne of the big hits at Woolf and the City was the performance by the West Coast band Princeton, who rocked out on stage Friday evening with all four tunes from their “Bloomsbury” album.

Another big hit was the Virginia Woolf t-shirt the band sold. It featured Virginia looking trés cool behind a pair of metallic-gold-trimmed Ray-Bans.

You, too, can be trés cool. Order a shirt from the band’s MySpace page. Scroll way down. Choose your size — men’s or women’s from small to large — and click on the “Pay Now” link to pay through PayPal.

Tip: The shirts are 100 percent cotton, and the women’s sizes run small. Bump your order up a size.

While you are on their site, you can check out their music.

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Registration for Woolf and the City, the 19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf that will be held in New York City June 4 to 7, is now open, and conference organizers have planned some exciting events.

Some of the highlights, as posted so far, include:

Early bird registration has been extended to April 20, and online registration is open until May 8. Click here to register and get answers to frequently asked questions.

And if you are looking for three graduate credits, consider taking the summer class taught by Anne Fernald during the week of the conference. It’s called “Woolf: Modern Women and the City.”

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woolf_and_the_cityOrganizers of Woolf and the City, the 19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, have put together some exciting events for the June 4-7 event, which will be held at Fordham University in New York City.

Here is the latest news from Anne Fernald, conference organizer:


Registration will be available in a few weeks. The fee will be $150 for fully employed participants with a concession rate of $100. The banquet will be an additional $50.


The conference Web site will soon offer details on how to reserve a room at the Hudson Hotel at the reduced rate of $259/night. There are many other options, all the way down to hostels at $30 a night and “couch surfing.”

Keynote address

Rebecca Solnit is a progressive journalist and essayist who is the author of numerous books, including Hope in the Dark (2004), Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2001), and As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art (2001), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. She is a recipient of the Lannan Literary Award and a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation.

Plenary talks

  • Tamar Katz, Brown University, author of Impressionist Subjects; Gender, Interiority, and Modernist Fiction in England, published by Univeristy of Illinois Press in 2000. She is a member of the Urban Studies Program Committee at Brown, as well as the associate editor of the Modernist Journals Project. She is now at work on a book about modernism’s use of the city and contemporary urban nostalgia.
  • Anna Snaith, Kings College London, author of several books including Virginia Woolf: Public and Private Negotiations,published in 2000. She is currently editing The Years for the Cambridge University Press Edition of Virginia Woolf and working on a monograph titled Colonial London: Nation, Gender and Modernity 1890-1945, which will be published by  Cambridge University Press.
  • Jessica Berman, of the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, is the author of the 2000 book Modernist Fiction, Cosmopolitanism and the Politics of Community. She is currently at work on a book tentatively titled From Ought to Is: Modernism, Ethics, Politics, which will be published by Columbia University Press.

Special events

  • Before the banquet, Katherine Lanpher, host of Barnes and Noble’s acclaimed Upstairs at the Square at the Union Square Will to Create as a WomanB&N, will moderate a conversation with Susan Sellers, author of the new novel Vanessa and Virginia, and Dr. Ruth Gruber, feminist and activist and the author of Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman.
  • The Stephen Pelton Dance Theater is collaborating with the up-and-coming band Princeton on a dance and musical performance. ($20 supplement)
  • A theater performance is also being planned. Stay tuned for details. ($15 supplement)
  • The conference book exhibit will be run by Bluestockings, the Lower East Side feminist collective bookstore. This year’s silent auction will benefit Girls Write Now, a local nonprofit that pairs NYC high school girls with women writers as mentors. Some of the girls and their mentors will be reading at a concurrent session.

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