Durham, N.C. — Writers, poets, musicians, artists, and linguists converged in Durham in early November for the much anticipated SAMLA 87 Conference, and Barton College’s English faculty took a leading role at this distinguished academic gathering of teachers, scholars, and graduate students.
The annual conference supports the work and interests of the 87-year-old South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA), which is dedicated to the advancement of teaching as well as literary and linguistic scholarship in the modern languages. Dr. James A. Clark, dean of the School of Humanities, professor of English, and the Elizabeth H. Jordan Endowed Chair in Southern Literature at Barton College, currently serves as president of SAMLA.
“It was a great honor for me, personally, to be asked to serve as president of my discipline’s primary regional organization, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, but more than that, I was honored to be able to represent Barton College, and all similar small liberal arts colleges in the South Atlantic region,” shared Dr. Clark, when asked about this leadership opportunity.
Elaborating on the benefits and value of the liberal arts experience, of which SAMLA supports, Dr. Clark added, “I am convinced that now, more than ever, this complex country we live in requires an ‘informed citizenry,’ well educated, well read, thoughtful, and critical. It is not enough to simply be trained to perform a job of work, though that is certainly important. The challenges we will face in the coming years will require us to be not only technologically and scientifically adept, but also empathetic and emotionally intelligent. Short of traveling constantly to engage intimately with all manner of people and cultures, I know of no better way to become empathetic and emotionally intelligent than by reading great works of literature. And, such reading also provides the additional benefit of sharpening both our creative and critical faculties. I personally believe it is better to study literature in a generalist manner, with a small group of committed, like-minded souls. That is precisely the atmosphere and circumstance one finds at a small liberal arts college. I am very proud of my Barton colleagues, alumni, and current students who made the effort to attend the SAMLA conference and to participate in its varied activities and programs. They all bear witness to the salubrious effects of a liberal arts education, and especially to the benefits of intensive study of great literature, culture, and languages. They are model citizens.”
Also in attendance from Barton College to lead and/or participate in various program sessions were faculty members Dr. Rebecca Godwin, professor of English and director of The Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center and Dr. Michael Fukuchi, professor of English. Barton alumni in attendance included Michael Brantley, a new author and recent adjunct instructor for Barton College, who also co-led a conference session, as well as Melissa Edmundson Makala, who has taught for a number of years at various University of South Carolina institutions.
As president of SAMLA, Dr. Clark was responsible for developing the special focus or theme for this year’s Conference: “In Concert: Literature and the Other Arts.” He also selected and invited the featured speaker and the plenary sessions speakers. His administrative duties also include chairing the Executive Committee of SAMLA and presiding at the biannual meetings for the organization, where much of the work is accomplished each year. Dr. Clark served as moderator for the SAMLA 87 Conference and delivered the Presidential Address at the annual Awards Luncheon.
Annual membership is required for attendance at the conference and includes a subscription to the “South Atlantic Review,” an academic journal committed to publishing research in modern languages and literatures, as well as in associated fields such as film, cultural studies, and rhetoric and composition.
Dr. Clark reported that the annual comprehensive program was a huge success. He described the conference, which incorporated a multidisciplinary focus, “as ‘rich and strange’ in every good way.” He had promised participants that they would not only thoroughly enjoy every minute of it, but they would leave the conference energized and exhilarated. His promise rang true. The expansive program bulletin for the conference, more than 170 pages in length, was filled with a wide variety of sessions, some 100 opportunities to “inspire, provoke, amaze, and enlighten” those in attendance.
Among the highlights of SAMLA 87 conference was acclaimed North Carolina novelist Wiley Cash, author of “A Land More Kind than Home” and “This Dark Road to Mercy,” as the featured speaker for the conference. His presentation addressed re-writing history through the fictionalization of the Loray Mill Strike of 1929. Barton’s Dr. Godwin introduced Cash to a full audience.
In addition, there were two plenary sessions and a host of conference-themed regular sessions, as well as special subject sessions, roundtable discussions, undergraduate programming sessions, and professional development workshops.
This year, the SAMLA planning committee stepped outside the box for the Creative Plenary session with a collaborative presentation by poet Wyn Cooper and his musical partner novelist Madison Smartt Bell. In addition to “Fun,” the poem that developed into Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” Wyn Cooper has published four books of poetry. Award winning novelist Madison Smartt Bell is perhaps best known for his novel trilogy on the Haitian revolution. Their musical collaboration has produced two albums, “Forty Words for Fear” (2003) and “Postcards Out of the Blue” (2008). Their well-attended Creative Plenary Session was inspiring and entertaining for all in attendance.
The Critical Plenary session featured renowned historian, folklorist, and former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities William R. Ferris. During his address, Dr. Ferris discussed his most recent multi-media anthology, “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists.”
Among the sessions that Barton faculty led or served as presenters were discussions ranging from an evening session of “Music of Poetry/Poetry of Music” led by Dr. Clark to sessions in the Professional Development Series: “What Can’t You Do with an English Major” by Dr. Fukuchi and Brantley and “Tenure: Moving from Assistant to Associate” by Dr. Clark. Dr. Rebecca Godwin chaired two affiliated group sessions sponsored by The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment: “Can the Arts Save the Earth?: Sea and Seafarer; and “Can the Arts Save the Earth?: Environments, Real and Imagined.” Dr. Fukuchi also presented at a Comparative Literature & Intermedia session titled, “The Epic Battle of the Ages: Atsumori (Tales of the Heike) vs. Hector (Iliad).”
Membership information and forms are available on the SAMLA website at http://samla.memberclicks.net/membership-information. Communication about membership and the forms should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.