ISSUED: 1 May 2023
MEDIA CONTACT: Dana Costa
SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — English major Lee DiFante, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, attended the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society convention in Denver, Colorado, March 29-April 1.
DiFante presented a paper titled “The Use of Witches and Witch Tropes in Toni Morrison Novels” that provides an in-depth look at the use of symbols and concepts associated with witchcraft and magic across several Toni Morrison novels. DiFante also chaired a session at the convention.
This is the first academic convention DiFante has been able to attend, and they found the experience valuable.
“It was amazing. This really isn’t anything I’d ever thought I’d have an opportunity to do. I learned so much about the world of academics and conferences,” DiFante said. “I would really encourage anyone even thinking about applying to future Sigma Tau Delta conferences, or other conferences, any conferences, to do so. You absolutely have what it takes, and the experience is definitely unforgettable.”
Funding from the Department of English and Modern Languages and the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences made the trip possible for DiFante.
DiFante did an interview for the Department of English and Modern Languages newsletter about the experience in Denver:
Tell us about your paper, its title, and its argument.
My paper was the same paper I wound up using for my capstone, “The Use of Witches and Witch Tropes in Toni Morrison Novels,” originally my final paper for a Toni Morrison seminar I took Spring of 21. The paper takes an in-depth look at the use of symbols and concepts associated with witchcraft and magic across several Toni Morrison novels from her first to her last, and particularly focuses on repeating patterns, for instance the repeating use of a matrilineal three-woman, three-generational trinity which is found in a significant number of Morrison’s works. The conclusion I draw from this is that Toni Morrison purposefully capitalized on the cultural connections between black women in America and witchcraft via the uses of witches and magical realism, in order to paint a striking picture of the unique way black women are othered in American society.
How was the conference? What were some highlights?
It was amazing. I’d never been to any kind of academic conference before, and it was really delightful to suddenly be around dozens, hundreds, of people who talked like me and kind of dressed like me (nerd chic) and had similar interests. Everyone was just so nice, I must have been unofficially adopted by four or five different schools as different groups realized I was there on my own. Seeing Denver was also incredible; what an astonishing city. A few things that I’ll definitely be taking with me was how incredible it was to hear the authors of The Toni Morrison Book Club speak and read from their book. Getting to talk to all of them, but especially Juda Bennett, during the book signing was absolutely next level. I also ran into someone during one of the presentations (an alum presenting on Lucy in Dracula) and through talking realized I had actually cited her personal blog in my own Dracula essay [for an essay in Dr. Hanrahan’s ENGL 341 class last fall].
Can you talk about both sharing your paper and chairing a session?
So, I was presenting in the very first time slot of the entire conference. I had no chance to see another session and kind of get a feel for how they went, I was just going in with peak nerves and strong prayers. But everyone was just as nervous as me, so I bit the bullet and volunteered to go first. It’s a bit strange to think that means I was one of maybe a dozen people who were the very first to present at the conference—wacky! Anyway, it went smoothly despite some last-minute hiccups the night before, and all of us were grouped up really well; our papers complimented each other’s. Despite my fears, I got a healthy number of questions and was able to answer them well.
As for chairing, I think that actually scared me more than presenting! I signed up for it because I thought it would be a good experience (I was right), but really I had no concept of what a chair did. Fortunately, I was chairing on the last day of the conference, so I basically just took notes in
every panel I went to on how the chairs each did it—they all did it a little differently—combined the bits I liked, and did it myself. Despite that, I was so nervous introducing everyone that I very nearly lost my voice! Fortunately, it went well—a chair’s job is actually really quite easy—and I learned a lot in a panel I honestly probably wouldn’t have attended otherwise with so many going on simultaneously. It also felt nice to feel like I was “helping out” a bit while I was there.
What did you get out of attending?
I think experience is a big one for me. As I mentioned, I’d never attended any kind of academic conference like this before. I really had no idea what to expect. So just being able to go and see how these sorts of things work—especially on a practical level—was really valuable to me. On a more material level, I got soooo many resources. So many! Works cited page upon works cited page have been entered into my little notebook. Not only did I learn a lot, I got an unfathomable number of resources to dig through, e-mail addresses for contacts, just a fantastic amount of practical research that was already done and just handily presented to me by other English students and even alumni across the country. I felt a little bit like a dragon whose hoard was doubling by the day.
Anything else you want to share?
This really isn’t anything I’d ever thought I’d have an opportunity to do. I learned so much about the world of academics and conferences, and I also got to fly to a brand new city (Denver! whoa!) I’d never even considered being able to go to and meet people I’d never even considered being able to meet (I am taking perfect snapshot memories of every word spoken to me by the authors of The Toni Morrison Book Club to my grave). I would really encourage anyone even thinking about applying to future Sigma Tau Delta conferences (or other conferences! any conferences!) to do so. Someone else in my panel won an award off a paper she’d originally written in high school! You absolutely have what it takes, and the experience is definitely unforgettable.
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