Viva Las … MSA14

Howdy there reader,

So, I had the great pleasure and honor of attending the 14th annual Modernist Studies Association at the Flamingo hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

(This is what The Flamingo looks like… if you’re curious, picture from: accessed 9:35PM 10/21/2012)

Here are links to some information if you missed out (click on the pdf version of the program to search names and look at panels):

Conference home page:


Modernist Studies Association main page (in case you want to know more):


Now, this was my first MSA, but I had heard wonderful things about it from professors and colleagues for years. They totally undersold it. This conference was AWESOME. And I’m not saying that because it was in Las Vegas (my second trip to Vegas, just not a fan, though I did have a great time, and I understand why some people fall in love with it). There are a few reasons that I find MSA to be one of the best conferences I’ve attended:

1. The sense of community is more tangible there than at most other conferences I’ve been at (I hear great things about similarly considered conferences with a disciplinary bent, as well).

2. The quality of work presented was absolutely thrilling. I think 75% of the papers I heard were top-notch, tell my girlfriend (who works in a totally different area) all about them good.

3. The approachability of everyone was just awesome. I ran into some professors I’ve met in the past and all were happy to exchange a few words and to chat about the conference. I met a ton of new people doing cool work and have plans to email and follow up with a lot of them.

So, those are the reasons the conference itself was awesome, the ones I suspect hold relatively close to true each year. Let me tell you about just some of my personal highlights. Before I do, though, let me stress the some and the personal — these are just a few of the great things that pop into my head reflecting on the conference on the fly.

Okay, disclaimer aside, first thing: it was absolutely AWESOME to see so many great modernist friends, I saw former UCSB colleagues and friends (Julia Panko! Mike Frangos! Our former post-doc Josh Epstein! Our current post-doc Scott Selisker), a former undergrad colleague of mine (Katherine Ryan), and even a very important former undergraduate professor of mine, Tim Newcomb, whom I had a wonderful conversation with. So, the people, the reunions, the conversations, come first to mind.

Then there was my seminar, which was very well run by Professor Jane Fisher: SEM 6. Modernism, Contagion and Spectacle (for a full list of the participants in this really engaging, really productive discussion, just check the program!). I felt like I walked away with so many ideas.

Of course there was the first Zombie Modernisms panel, I really liked all of the work there, and I was somewhat familiar with the work of those panelists from an amazing conference I attended in Louisville last year — it was part of the reason I ended up starting this blog, actually. Professor Ed Comentale’s paper really blew my mind, though. It did exactly the kind of work that I want to do — well historicized, race-conscious, bridging modernism and popular fiction. Jonathan Eburne’s talk (a) gave me yet another reason I need to look at Ulrich Beck’s work directly and (b) piqued my interest in the source material for Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo. Professor Aaron Jaffe rounded out the panel with a hilarious and very insightful discussion on how to use Lovecraft in relation to modernism. What I really took away, though, is how much we should consider Lovecraft as an integral influence on the development of the Americanized figure of the zombie. As someone trying to do work on both modernism and zombies, it was a great thrill to see people doing such awesome work on it. In fact, there were two panels on the topic! To my great regret I didn’t get a chance to see the second panel, but I’m sure it was equally awesome.

The business lunch was great. For a nominal fee, I ate a delicious 3 course lunch and got to see under the hood of the organization, so to speak. I — very quietly — love administrative work like that, and it was great to see how the organization operates and to feel like I was part of it.

Oh, what else… J. Hillis Miller Plenary… wonderful receptions every night… a great selection of books… an AMAZING panel on Security to Surveillance in the Harlem Renaissance. On that note, Professor William J. Maxwell really shined in this panel… even though his paper was read in absentia! Professor Paul Peppis did an absolutely wonderful job reading the paper, and explained to the audience that Professor Maxwell is finishing some SUPER cool work on the F.B.I. and its relation to the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, in a book tentatively titled F.B. Eyes, so keep an eye out for that.

I could just go on and on — as it is, I’ve been writing this post for the better part of over an hour now — but the point in all this is really just to say: I had a wonderful time at MSA14 in Las Vegas; I learned a lot; I wanted to share some highlights; and I hope that you find this helpful if you are on the fence about a discipline or methodology specific conference.

Well dear reader, I have to wash some dishes, pet some cats, and get myself to an early bed.

Thanks for eyeing my scribbles.

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