On April 5, 2012, eight Washburn students arrived in Ogden, Utah to attend and present original works at the 2012 National Undergraduate Conference hosted by Weber State University. About 400 students from all over the country submitted pieces but fewer than 200 were accepted. Representing fiction were Anna Frantz, Stacy Thowe, Amy Day, and I. Emily McCall read a story for the category creative works in English. Not all students read fiction. Rachael Cox, Lindsey Wichern, and Emily Simons presented scholarly analyses of society and literature.
Although students were excited about the opportunity that the conference presented, there was some nervousness about reading their work to an audience. “I remember not really being able to eat or sleep for a few days leading up to it, but afterwards I felt awesome… I even had a few girls approach me in the hallway after my presentation who wanted to talk about it some more,” says Emily Simons (see photo on the right) about presenting her essay, “T.M.I: The Dangers of Forbidden Knowledge in Doctor Faustus and Frankenstein.” Simons’s essay was one of six conference pieces chosen to be published in Weber State’s literary journal, the Metaphor.
In addition to presenting original and creative works, conference attendees had the opportunity to listen to acclaimed authors such as past Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin and non-fiction author Alexandra Fuller, whose works include Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat. Both speakers shared not only samples of their past works, but also interesting memories from their own lives that inspired them to write successful, published works. The experience was both entertaining and instructive.
There were also many interesting presentations from non-Washburn students attending the conference. One essay in particular that caught my interest was, “A Defense of Harry Potter as Christian Literature,” presented by Daniel Paul of Brigham Young University. He compared the saga of Harry Potter to Dante’s Inferno, stating that Lily and Beatrice both function as Christ figures, and how Dumbledore and Virgil both serve the similar function of guiding the protagonist to that Christ figure. It was a comparison I hadn’t heard before and shed new light on a book series I thought that I had understood pretty well.
As well as an opportunity to share their work with an audience, the conference was also a learning experience for Washburn students. Rachael Cox described it as “both a wonderful validation of literally years of work in literature and an incredible learning experience in regards to the amount of good literature and authors I was able to experience.”
Some students like Anna Frantz were even able to learn to appreciate types of literature they didn’t normally read: “Before, my interest in British Literature was dismal; since I attended two sessions on Brit Lit, I now wish I had more time to read over classics ranging from Shakespearean to Jane Austen works.” Frantz continued by describing how the conference changed her outlook on her own work: “I am much more appreciative of constructive criticism as feedback to help better my technique as a writer. I encourage anyone with an interest in literature to consider submitting and presenting at conferences such as NULC.”
The National Undergraduate Literature Conference was a success for Washburn. It presented an opportunity for students to share their work with an audience of like-minded peers from all over the country, gain more confidence in their own literary talent, and grow as both writers and critics.
This article on the 2012 National Undergraduate Literature Conference was written by Niel Thompson (see photo on the right), a former Washburn English major who graduated in December 2011. The English Department is grateful to Niel for sharing his reflections on the conference experience.