1998 - 2010
The Red River Conference on World Literature (RRCWL) owes its inception and continuance to the initiative and dedication of many individuals in the NDSU scholarly community. Among those many people, the coordinators of the conference deserve special recognition for insuring that each April, as the Red River thaws and trees bud into leaf, literary and cultural scholars will gather in Fargo to present critical interpretations of issues and texts that challenge, restore, and expand our understanding of the how the humanities shape who we are.
The RRCWL is the result of a successful proposal written by English Department Professor R.S. Krishnan for NDSU’s Department Excellence Award in 1995.
The $10,000 award generated discussions as to how to utilize the amount, with suggestions ranging from cash disbursement to every English department member to using the funds to establish a literary journal. Krishnan recounts, “Finally, it was decided that we should utilize the monies in ways that will have maximum impact on the university community through the advancement of cultural and intellectual exchange by means of an annual conference on literature and literature studies.”
“Toward this end,” Krishnan remembers, “the department voted to establish a conference on World Literature, both because it is one area in which we felt we could carve out a niche and because such a conference, by attracting scholars, critics, and writers from across the region and beyond, would visibly raise the institutional profile and contribute, in meaningful ways, to NDSU’s own strategic commitment to internationalization and cultural diversity. But in keeping with the idea that every participant should have the opportunity to hear all the papers read, the conference organizing committee opted for a small conference in which sessions would run consecutively, rather than concurrently.
” With Krishnan as coordinator, the First RRCWL took place in 1998 at the Ramada Plaza Suites and Conference Center in Fargo with the theme: “States of Identity: Gender, Culture, Ideology.” Twenty-six papers were presented by scholars from the region and overseas. The poet Alberto Rios, currently Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University, delivered the keynote address: “The Forgotten Language of the Coming Century.” The conference also included a plenary address by David Danbom, NDSU Professor of History, on “History and the Culture Wars: How One Discipline Has Changed and Why.”
Krishnan continued as coordinator for the next two conferences. In 1999 the Second RRCWL had for its theme, “ Mapping Territory: Reinscriptions, Retellings, Revisions.
” Thirty-four papers were presented, again from a cross-section of scholars from the US and overseas. Post-colonial writer and poet Meena Alexander, who is now Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, delivered the keynote address: “Postcolonial Memories: A Writer’s Reflections.” Kathleen Slobin, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at NDSU, delivered the conference plenary: “Tracing the Imaginary Postcolonial Subjects.”
The third annual conference, in 2000, had as its theme: “Topos of the Mind: Exile, Memory, Desire.” Thirty-six scholars presented papers. Two speakers presented keynote addresses: Fawzia Afzal-Khan (Montclair State University) spoke on “Postcolonial Desires,” and Uma Parameswaran (University of Winnipeg) spoke on “Dispelling the Spells of Memory: Another Approach to Reading Our Yesterdays.” NDSU History Professor Thomas Isern delivered the plenary address: “The Comedy of the Commons: My Life on the Post-Colonial Plains.”
After serving as coordinator for three years, Krishnan, who remains active in the RRCWL on its executive committee, entrusted the responsibility of directing the conference to NDSU English Professor Kevin Brooks. During his three-year tenure, Brooks broadened participation and attendance by inviting the Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing (GPACW) to run concurrent sessions with the RRCWL to “encourage cross-fertilization (or cross talk) among two disparate parts of English studies,” Brooks recounts. Additionally, Brooks moved conference activities from the Ramada Plaza in South Fargo, where the RRCWL met its first three years, to the NDSU campus and downtown Fargo “to try and engage more of the campus community (students in particular) as well as introduce visitors to our community,” Brooks recalls.
With Brooks as coordinator, the Fourth Annual RRCWL met in 2001 with the theme: “Colonialism and Postcolonialism in the Americas.” Twenty-six scholars responded with presentations. The keynote address was given by poet and short story writer Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Professor Emerita, Eastern Washington State University, who spoke on “Anti-Colonialism and Genocide: The Colonial Legacy in Native America.” Plenaries were given by Steve Pett ( Iowa State University) who spoke on “Outside the Westerns: Native Americans, College Bound-and Gagged,” and Juanita Garciagodoy ( Macalaster College) who spoke on “Transgressive Syncretism in Mexico’s Days of the Dead.” The Fourth RRCWL also included a lecture sponsored by NDSU’s Communications Department: Robert Cox, President of the United States Sierra Club, presented “Environmental Communication and U.S. Politics: New Voices/New Challenges.”
The 2002 conference, “Futures of World Literatures and Literacies,” attracted sixty presenters, twenty-nine to the RRCWL, and thirty-one to the concurrent GPACW. Three plenary addresses were presented: Cass Dalglish, Augsburg College, spoke on “Cuneimatographs: Ancient Notions of Writing in Motion;” hypertext author Carolyn Guyer presented, “Mother Millenia: Gathering Narrative;” and author Geoffrey Sirc, University of Minnesota, spoke on “Box Logic.”
At the Sixth Annual RRCWL in 2003, thirty presenters responded to the conference theme: “World Literature/World Film: Intersections and Challenges.” A highlight of the conference was a keynote address by cinematographer Renee Tajima Peña and a screening of her film My America…or, Honk if you Love Buddha at the historic downtown Fargo Theater. Peña, formerly film critic for the Village Voice, is an award-winning filmmaker.
The three-year appointment of Professor Jeanne Hageman as conference coordinator in 2004 recognized the administrative involvement of NDSU’s Department of Modern Languages in the RRCWL. The Modern Languages Department had been involved with the conference at a practical level since its beginnings, with the department chair, Professor Paul Homan, serving on the executive committee. During this period, in 2006, Hageman invited the Foreign Language Association of the Red River (FLARR) to conduct its spring meeting concurrent with the RRCWL because the public school and university language teachers who are affiliated with FLARR have a natural interest in the world literature focus of the conference.
In Hageman’s ensuing three years as coordinator, she emphasized the importance of the conference “to introduce us to new concepts and literature of other cultures, and offer new insights into texts we know,” stating that the conference presented keynote speakers who brought stimulating and new perspectives to the colonial/post colonial theme.
“Crossing Borders, B(l)ending Boundaries,” the theme of the 2004 Seventh Annual Red River Conference on World Literature and the concurrent Seventh Annual Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing, attracted sixty-eight presenters; thirty-eight to the RRCWL, and thirty to the GPACW. Two keynote speakers addressed the conference: Richard Grusin, currently Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and John Dagenais, Professor of Medieval Iberia in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Los Angeles. Grusin described his recent book project on the relations among film, television, and digital media at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Dagenais, in “1492 and All That,” addressed contemporary co-options of the term “Medieval” and its derivatives.
The theme of the 2005 Eighth Annual RRCWL, “Imagined Communities: Nation, Race, Home, Family,” resulted in papers given by forty-two presenters. Gerald Vizenor, Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, presented the conference keynote address: “Native American Narratives: Resistance and Survival,” focusing on Native American Indian narratives and literature documented and published between the Civil War and the First World War.
“Nation and Narration,” the theme of the 2006 conference, drew fifty-one scholars from the region and overseas to present papers. Margarita Cota-Cardenas, Professor Emerita from Arizona State University, read from her poetry and presented the plenary lecture “Sanctuaries of the Heart: Mexican American Women Writers in the 21 st Century.” The conference keynote address, “Literature as the Political Kingdom,” was presented by Maryse Condé, the Guadeloupian author of epic historical fiction, affectionately known as the “grand dame of Caribbean literature.”
At the conclusion of Hageman’s three-year appointment, the role of coordinating the RRCWL was given to Carol Pearson, NDSU Professor of Modern Languages. Pearson, who has presented and moderated at the conference since it began, and who also served on its executive committee, will guide the RRCWL for the upcoming three years. The first year under her direction is the tenth anniversary of the conference. The history of the Red River Conference of World Literature attests to the coordinators’ commitment to the vision outlined by R.S. Krishnan when, in 1995, he persuaded his colleagues to invest NDSU’s $10,000 Department Excellence Award in an annual conference on literature and literature studies.
David Martinson NDSU English Department
Paula Larsen’s archive of conference proceedings was an invaluable resource in assembling this history. R.S. Krishnan, Kevin Brooks, Jeanne Hageman, Paul Homan, Carol Pearson, and Carlos Hawley shared their recollections of conferences for this history.