Posts Tagged ‘Woolf and the City’

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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Anyone who attended Woolf and the City had the opportunity to meet Ruth Gruber, the amazing journalist and photographer who met Virginia and Leonard Woolf back in the 1930s. Gruber was also ahead of her time when she wrote Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman. Scroll down to #22 to read about her milestone 100th birthday.

Ruth Gruber at Woolf and the City in 2009 wearing the commemorative conference t-shirt

  1. After the side suits, think about trumps, Post-Tribune
    Virginia Woolf
    , an English writer who is regarded as a leading modernist literary figure of the last century, said, “On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.” At the center of many bridge agonies sits an unobservant player
  2. Secretly Seeking Solitude: A Woman’s Need for Time Alone, Huffington Post (blog)
    As Dr. Phil says, “Ya gotta name it to claim it,” and Virginia Woolf most certainly did. Her speeches that turned into the seminal and necessary essay A Room of One’s Own codified a woman’s need for time to herself. She brought the idea to the surface
  3. Thou shall not kill … except in this case, easttennessean.com (subscription)
    Virginia Woolf has a way with words. Over 70 years after her death, there remains an intense relevance in her work. One of Woolf’s best essays, entitled “Professions for Women,” references the heroine of a rather sexist narrative poem, The Angel in the
  4. The Truth Behind Tim Hudak’s Homophobic Flyers, DigitalJournal.com (press release)
    The page cited in the PC flyer is a list of “Significant International” gay and lesbian individuals, including Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Virginia Woolf and Harvey Milk. PC Claim: “Reclaim Valentine’s Day and celebrate sexual diversity [with a]
  5. Something brewing beneath transphobic ads in Ontario, rabble.ca (blog)
    As for cross-dressing, the… page cited in the PC flyer is a list of ‘Significant International’ gay and lesbian individuals, including Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Virginia Woolf and Harvey Milk.” The flyer (like McVety’s ad) is a litany of
  6. The Genius of Free Governments, Huffington Post (blog)
    distributors that listed early films of Fellini and Hitchcock have had to delete them from their catalogs; bookstores that offered cheap editions of Joseph Conrad, George Orwell, HG Wells, and Virginia Woolf have pulled them from the shelves.
  7. The Sharpest Beach Bums You’ll Ever Meet, Brooklyn Rail
    It’s not that Wark’s lack of a compelling narrative structure makes slogging through the book an occasionally arduous experience; writers like Virginia Woolf can dispense of narrative completely and still craft engrossing literature.
  8. PadGadget Weekly App Series – Apps for Outdoors Experience, PadGadget
    This app includes such tales as “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf, “The Door in the Wall” by HG Wells and “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allen Poe. This app really offers a great collection of short stories that will keep everyone entertained on
  9. Johanna Skibsrud: The writer, the prize, the year after, Globe and Mail
    Skibsrud names Virginia Woolf’s most challenging novel, The Waves, as a major source of inspiration for her own work, which likewise demands concentration from readers. “A lot of times people don’t want to pay that attention,” she said. “I don’t know.
  10. The Future of Feminism by Sylvia Walby, Bookslut
    The Future of Feminism will not win any prose awards, and it does seem time for a reminder that Virginia Woolf penned analytic and polemic texts that were all the stronger for their style. Nonetheless, Walby avoids the opacity of most academic prose,
  11. The hipster rules, OK?, Times LIVE
    They claim to like writers with loaded names such as Virginia Woolf, Voltaire and Chomsky. They drink beer, are coffee connoisseurs, smoke Lucky Strike or Camel, don’t use deodorant, listen to bands that nobody has ever heard of.
  12. Literature and food join forces at İstanbul’s 3rd Tanpınar fest, Today’s Zaman
    British author and self-confessed childhood bookworm Mark Crick’s witty work “Kafka’s Soup, A History of World Literature,” delivers 14 recipes in the writing styles of famous writers from Virginia Woolf to Jane Austen. Germany’s Jasmin Ramadan also
  13. Kidman, Watts to record bedtime stories, Sydney Morning Herald
    Kidman will read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse while Watts will read Summer by Edith Wharton. Kidman won an Oscar for her portrayal of Woolf in The Hours. Hollywood stars Samuel L Jackson, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Colin Firth, Meg Ryan,
  14. Kate Winslet And Other Stars Lend Their Voices to Audible Books, Shockya.com
    The company has enlisted the help of some well-known voices to record such novels as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Being There from novelist Jerzey Kosinski, and To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Per The Hollywood Reporter,
  15. Audiobooks with star appeal, xmediaonline – Exeposé
    Virginia Woolf’s famous Twentieth Century novels are amongst those being recorded. Kidman, who portrayed Woolf in the Oscar winning film The Hours, will be reading the 1927 novel To the Lighthouse while Annette Bening is recording Mrs Dalloway which
  16. Celebrities lend voices to bedtime stories, Silentnight Beds
    Nicole Kidman will be responsible for reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, as Naomi Watts records Summer by Edith Wharton. It recently emerged that the Jurys Inn chain of hotels was launching an e-book reader loan service for the convenience of
  17. Hollywood stars give voice to their favourite novels in audiobook boom, The Guardian
    STARRING ROLES Some of the Hollywood actors confirmed to take part in the series: Annette Bening Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf Jennifer Connelly The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles Colin Firth The End of the Affair by Graham Greene Samuel L Jackson A
  18. Guest opinion, Aspen Times
    We examined a variety of social issues raised by the voices of Virginia Woolf, Rachel Carson and Martin Luther King. We honestly conversed about our own journeys as we opened up the writings of contemporary authors Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates and
  19. In Supreme Court Argument, a Rock Legend Plays a Role, New York Times
    The affected works included films by Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini, books by CS Lewis and Virginia Woolf, symphonies by Prokofiev and Stravinsky and paintings by Picasso. Jimi Hendrix joins a growing list of artists cited by the court. ..
  20. US defends copyright law for famous foreign works, Jerusalem Post
    adopted by Congress to comply with an international treaty, that restored copyright protection to foreign works, including films by Alfred Hitchcock, paintings by Picasso, symphonies by Stravinsky and books by CS Lewis and Virginia Woolf.
  21. The symphony and the novel – a harmonious couple?, The Guardian
    Certainly, western literature had its own sustained modernist moment, but while Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and others may have responded with fidelity to the death of the old gods by fashioning a prose fiction that dealt with the phenomenon of
  22. The Human Spirit: Ruth Gruber turns 100, Jerusalem Post
    Her thesis was about the feminism of a then little-known British writer: Virginia Woolf. In Germany, she loved das Land der Dichter und Denker, the land of poets and thinkers, but abhorred the dark side. An inborn reporter, she attended a Hitler rally
  23. Manifestations of modernity the new era and transitional societies, NL-Aid
    Seminal Bloomsbury-member Virginia Woolf expressed the hope at the beginning of the Twentieth century that ‘[a] political and social movement that give hope (……)’ would emerge. Indeed said epistemic community materialized, fostering and nurturing
  24. Send Men The Bill — They Made The Mess, Hartford Courant
    Virginia Woolf once wrote, “As a woman, I have no country … as a woman, my country is the whole world.” Unlike Woolf, I do have a country. One of which I am very proud. One that I now feel represents me and treats me like a citizen, something I think
  25. How to stay married, Macleans.ca
    In 1929, Virginia Woolf famously wrote of the need for women to have “money and a room of one’s own” to create art. In 1954, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of Charles Lindbergh, wrote Gift From the Sea on a summer retreat from her husband and children,
  26. Op-ed: Chapter 11: Borders may be bankrupt, but your bookshelf need not suffer , The Maine Campus
    At least now overworked college students and middle-aged divorcees dying to read Virginia Woolf will be forced to visit their local used bookstores. Used bookstores are romantic, fun and most of all, cheap. Really, Borders closing their doors is just a
  27. Virginia Woolf, Financial Times
    In part because of its brevity, Alexandra Harris’s study of Virginia Woolf brings home how late in life she wrote her well-known works. In rapidly scanning the years, Harris emphasises how many were lost to self-doubt and illness, but also how only
  28. Tip Sheet for the Week of October 10, 2011: For Pleasure, Publishers Weekly
    In 1928, Virginia Woolf announced her intentions in her journal to take a “writer’s holiday,” a break from the heavy business of midwifing modernism to write something swift and light and pleasurable. Of course, “swift, light,
  29. Film: To the Lighthouse, Varsity Online
    by India Ross Despite the hewing of the film industry with this blunt axe of a contention, in the case of her modernist masterpiece, To the Lighthouse, and its lame 1983 made-for-TV adaptation, Virginia Woolf was right on the money.
  30. Go Go Gogi, Tehelka
    If you set up a parody of Virginia Woolf’s reportedly fraught relationship with her cook, this scene would be it. Gogi has no interest in cooking. She wasn’t brought up to think that she had to fake a love for domesticity in the way Woolf was.
  31. Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest by Wade , The Guardian
    Sir Leslie Stephen, for example, the impeccably intellectual editor of the Dictionary of National Biography and father of Virginia Woolf, was an early president of the Alpine Club and wrote Peaks, Passes and Glaciers alongside The Science of Ethics.
  32. Alison Bechdel, A.V. Club Chicago
    There’s also some Virginia Woolf and some other literary stuff, but mostly the quotations in this book are about psychoanalysis. AVC: Your childhood journals played a huge role in Fun Home. Are they also a big part of Are You My Mother?
  33. Review by Rudy Oldeschulte, Metapsychology
    Virginia Woolf Examining oneself through other individual’s life stories, that is, through biography or memoir, or through conversations that one is engaged in during the day or evening – and re-examining those glimpses of our experience in our quiet
  34. Court Theatre Presents Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson’s An Iliad 11/10-12/11, Broadway World
    Lisa Peterson (Co-Playwright) directed The Model Apartment by Donald Margulies, Slavs! by Tony Kushner, Traps and Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Churchill (Obie Award for Direction), The Waves adapted from Virginia Woolf (two Drama Desk ..
  35. Police and Poetry, The Atlantic
    “So life is simply from minute to minute of horror,” he wrote to Virginia Woolf. For the most part, he gave up trying to write poetry. “It is no use squeezing a dry sponge and it is no use trying to work a tired and distracted mind,” he wrote Gilbert
  36. BP Learned Mission, Antiques and the Arts Online
    general fiction (some signed), biography (some signed), works in Hebrew, fiction by Twain, Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, HG Wells, Sherwood Anderson, and others, travel and adventure, poetry (some signed), limited editions, and children’s literature.
  37. Everywhere Man, The Atlantic
    is said by the editor and translator of the volume, Laird M. Easton, to be one of the greatest ever written, “comparable in its stature to those of Samuel Pepys, André Gide, Henri Frédéric Amiel, Beatrice Webb, or Virginia Woolf.
  38. ANONYMOUS Character Card #2- Vanessa Redgrave/ Joley Richardson as Queen Elizabeth, Broadway World
    Marleen Gorris’ Mrs. Dalloway (adapted from the Virginia Woolf novel by Eileen Atkins); her son Carlo Nero’s “The Fever” for HBO Films; Roger Michell’s Venus; Lajos Koltai’s Evening; and, in 2008, Atonement, an Oscar® nominee for Best Picture.
  39. Let There Be Light: The TFT Review of The Luminist by David Rocklin, The Faster Times (blog)
    One these innovators, Julia Margaret Cameron, spent her life developing techniques for taking soft-focus portraits, and her surviving prints include an image of her niece, Julia Prinsep Jackson, mother of Virginia Woolf. But that isn’t Julia Margaret
  40. Review: Evanesence runs gloom into the ground on new album, Reuters
    Maybe Lee is suffering through one of the most tumultuous marriages this side of “Virginia Woolf,” or perhaps she’s still drawing emotional fuel from her feud with the disgruntled former band members who reassembled as We Are the Fallen.
  41. Read the reviews: “Always, Patsy Cline,” “Sugar,” “The Laramie Project” and , Naples Daily News (blog)
    And we do it all again in sixteen days – “Later Life,” “Virginia Woolf,” “Handle With Care” and “Rumors.” There’s been a lot of debate over the reviews. That’s good. You (actors, directors, the general public) are always free to contact me.
  42. And Now Some New Music From the Ladies: Feist, Bjork and More, Autostraddle
    The first single release “What the Water Gave Me” references a Frida Kahlo painting, Virginia Woolf and Greek mythology and with that adorable goofy dancing in the video, WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW! Second single “Shake It Out” is stunning,
  43. Readers’ tips: literary locations, Travel Agent
    Bedbury Lane, Freshwater Bay, 01983 752500, farringford.co.uk Esmeballard Godrevy Lighthouse, St Ives Though Virginia Woolf set her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse in the Hebrides, it was inspired by childhood holidays at St Ives in Cornwall – pure white
  44. The Old Wives’ Tale (Modern Library #87), Reluctant Habits
    In 1923, Virginia Woolf got nasty with an essay entitled “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”: “he is trying to hypnotize us into the belief that, because he has made a house, there must be a person living there.” And many seemed to believe her.
  45. About That “Last Chance” Written in the Sky Last Night, Bowery Boogie (blog)
    “When, in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, a crowd gathers to piece together skywriting, the spectacle unites disparate groups, as they cluster together to find meaning in the urban landscape. I am looking for folks to become a part of it by taking
  46. Women’s emancipation started with 1911, China Daily
    By Li Yinhe (China Daily) In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, known for her biting criticism of gender discrimination, describes how a woman like her was denied entry into a university library without the supervision of a man.
  47. Depp To Produce Biopic Of Dr. Seuss, Lez Get Real
    Very few writers lead lives interesting enough to warrant a biographical feature film, unless they suffer from bouts of depression and kill themselves like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, or harbor unnatural thoughts about small children like Charles
  48. The great disconnect of social media, The Coloradoan
    I packed up some things I didn’t really need like a curling iron and some Virginia Woolf books and I left some things I really did need like my friends and family. Instead of calling every day or week, I contented myself with learning about their lives
  49. Claire Black: ‘Virginia Woolf and Zadie Smith got it right when they said the , Scotsman
    Virginia Woolf (and Zadie Smith for that matter), got it right when they said the novel is for “grown-ups”. It really is. Back in 1992, I wouldn’t have understood Dorothea Brooke’s transformation through experience because, frankly, I didn’t have very
  50. Green; it’s not breezy, Bay View Compass
    Takal’s Genevieve is very much like a heroine of a Virginia Woolf story. She’s fragile, neurotic, and her fine intelligence fails to protect her from her perverse imagination. In an interview with Amarelle Wenkert, Takal said she wrote Green “literally
  51. The Stranger’s Child by Allan Hollinghurst, Toronto Star
    The novel is rich in allusions to works as diverse as Brideshead Revisited, EM Forster’s The Longest Road, and To the Lighthouse (Cecil is loosely based on Bloomsbury Group member and friend of Virginia Woolf’s Rupert Brooke), as well as more
  52. Why IKEA’s ‘Manland’ is Swedish for emasculated baby-men, Globe and Mail
    In the essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote of the necessity of privacy and money for a truly fulfilling creative life – each tough to come by for women of her time. She described walking past a library at Oxford in contemplation: “I thought

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princeton bandI’m a bit late with this, but the New York Times published a music review of some Woolfians’ favorite band, Princeton, earlier this month.

The L.A.-based band got conference-goers rocking when it performed cuts from the album “Bloomsbury” at Woolf and the City in June.

If you missed the Times Sept. 11 review, “They’re Not Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” read it now.

You can also read more about the group’s “Bloomsbury” recordings here.

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Vanessa and VirginiaAuthors of novels about real people have great freedom, in the name of fiction, to carve out their territory. Virginia Woolf and her coterie seem to be frequent subjects of these bold interpretations, and Woolfians are irresistibly drawn to them, myself included.

In recent years I have added to my shelves Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury by Sigrid Nunez, But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury by Gillian Freeman, and of course Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. The latest is Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers.

An accomplished Woolf scholar, Sellers makes few departures from the lives of the sisters. At the recent Virginia Woolf Conference in New York, she confessed that she chose the form of a first-person monologue by Vanessa as she would have been terrified to try to speak in Woolf’s voice. Yet one can appreciate her creativity and the risk involved in this undertaking as she presents a provocative perspective.

Sellers conveys a forceful immediacy with Vanessa’s present tense narrative directed at Virginia, who is “you” throughout. The four shattering family deaths are related in the first three chapters, resounding, one after the other, with startling violence. Vanessa observes that, “If this were a work of fiction, instead of an attempt to discern the truth, then Stella’s death, coming so soon after Mother’s, would seem like malicious overload on the writer’s part” (35).

Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers

Her story is one of bitterness and relentless envy from the start, as she perceives Virginia usurping Thoby, Mother, and then Clive. She resents Virginia’s relationship with Leonard and Duncan’s with Bunny—someone else is always taking her place, and she has to care for everyone while no one takes care of her. Even Virginia’s illness becomes an accusation: “There was manipulation as well as helplessness in your loss of control. By relinquishing the burden to me, you ensured I remained in Mother’s place, parenting you, indulging you” (51).

Vanessa’s language is lyrical and painterly when speaking of the colors, textures and shapes in her paintings, but there’s little joy, and her art often seems like a sedative. Drawing classes in her youth enabled her to “forget your pain and Father’s misery and Stella’s cares” (27); she paints to avoid feeling. Self-disparaging comparisons to Virginia and a lack of confidence in her work lead to her cloying subservience to Duncan, in both art and life, and seem to diminish her as an artist and professional.

While Sellers skillfully and sensitively conveys the complexity and pathos of Vanessa’s life, she makes a few unnecessary forays. A few instances of foreshadowing seem gratuitous, but this is, after all, fiction.

Overall, I found it satisfying and compelling, and I read it from cover to cover on the day I departed New York following the Woolf Conference. It gave me food for thought as I descended from conference immersion and a long flight into daily life, and now, more than a month later, I find I’m still swishing it around, enjoying the flavor.

Vanessa and Virginia, by Susan Sellers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston/New York, 2009.

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woolf_and_the_city2It’s been a month since Princeton and the Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre performed together at Woolf and the City, but like the blogger says, “its not like it un-happens after a month.”

 A vegan blogger from Brooklyn has posted photos of the event. And while as a conference attendee I object to the accompanying Rumpus description of our group as mostly “wavy-haired, intellectual, modern-day Virginias with silk scarves and thick-rimmed glasses,” I am grateful that the photographer’s crowd shot puts the lie to that characterization.

Take a look. I guarantee you won’t see a single pair of thick-rimmed glasses.

Ryan Muir’s photos are fun, especially the ones of my faves, the cute little Princeton boys. They remind me of the Beatle boys of yesteryear.

But here I am, showing my age, even though I don’t wear thick-rimmed glasses.

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