College of Charleston Grad Students Reflect on the ASALH Conference

A group of English graduate students from the College of Charleston attended and presented at the recent Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) conference held in Jacksonville, Florida. This year’s conference focused on Emancipation and its 150th anniversary. The students’ topics focused on African-American freedom through a literary lens, exploring the topic through the works of African-American writers. We briefly interviewed Betsey Poore and Dana Woodcock to learn more about their papers and their experience at the conference.

Jubilee Project: What drew you initially to the conference and why did you want to attend?

Betsey Poore: I wanted to attend the ASALH conference for two reasons. The primary reason to attend this conference was to gain experience presenting conference papers. This is valuable experience for graduate students and I felt that I had an interesting essay that would contribute to the asalh program. Second, I wanted to attend the interesting panels that the conference was hosting. 

Dana Woodcock: The ASALH Annual Conference interested me because it is a interdisciplinary meeting.  Since it is not just a literature conference, attendees are able hear the perspectives of presenters from a variety of disciplines, and I felt like that would help to broaden my own understanding of the context of African American literature.  

JP: Awesome! What were your paper topics?

BP: My paper focused on Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon and the inclusion of the Fates myth within the text. My paper, titled “It’s Fate: The Three Fate’s Myth in Song of Solomon” analyzed the use of the Fates myth specifically represented by Pilate. Further, I discussed how this myth and Pilate help Milkman, the protagonist, discover his identity and heritage. Understanding Pilate as a Fate helped me understand the ending more clearly as a choice to be free by finding a re-birth through one’s history. 

DW: I entitled my paper “The Man, the Myth: the Heroic Structure of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”  In a nutshell, the paper examines the way that the structure of Douglass’s text mirrors the structure of the classic Greco-Roman epics, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, to cast himself as a classic hero.  In doing so, he strengthens his voice and enables his narrative to combat the dominant pro-slavery voices of the day.

JP: Oh, I really like those methods of exploring the ties between narrative, identity, and freedom. It sounds like that would make for a really interesting panel. Overall, how did you find the conference experience?

BP: The ASALH conference was excellent! It was very well organized, and everyone I talked to was very nice and receptive of my essay. My panel consisted of all graduate students and we were at an early time (8:30) on the last day, but we had an audience  which I felt was very encouraging. Jacksonville was a great location, and I really enjoyed hearing the panels and meeting other people interested in African American life and history. 

DW: My experience at the conference was great!  A few of the panel attendees had questions and constructive suggestions for all the panel members, which was helpful.  I also enjoyed meeting people from other regions and disciplines.  Since this was my first experience with this organization, I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I think my time at the conference helped me gain a more nuanced understanding of field of African American studies.  It was definitely a positive experience, and I hope to go back in the coming years.  

A big thanks to Betsey and Dana for answering our questions. For more information on the ASALH and the conference, check out http://www.asalh.org/ 

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