English Graduate Student Conference
On Friday, February 10, 2023, students and faculty gathered in the beautiful 6th Floor Lounge of the Central Library for EGSA’s annual research conference. The day was filled with the sharing of exciting new research, the exchange of ideas, many passionate discussions, and a strong sense of intellectual community.
EGSA’s “annual” conference has been derailed the past couple of years because of COVID, so the participants were especially excited for this reboot of an important event for our department. As EGSA’s faculty advisor Dr. Penny Ingram welcomed everyone to the conference on Friday morning, she gave a brief history of EGSA and the annual conference, clarifying that this conference was the eighth that EGSA has put on at UTA. (She also emphasized that the name of the group should be pronounced EGG-SA!) The organization itself began in 2013, in Dr. Ingram’s words, “the brainchild of some very energetic and proactive graduate students,” some of whom are now professors in the Department of English.
The conference featured five engaging panel presentations, as well as a keynote speech by Dr. Ashley Barnes, Associate Professor of Literature at the University of Texas, Dallas. The panels represented an impressive array of fields and topics, including literary studies, film studies, rhetoric and language studies, and even interdisciplinary intersections between English and biology.
Following Dr. Ingram’s introduction, the first panel of the day concentrated on early modern literature, with presentations on both Shakespeare and Milton. Grace Beacham started off the Shakespearean focus with a paper on the role of breath and spirit in Antony and Cleopatra (a paper that won the EGSA Conference Grant Award), while Kelly Hall followed with a paper investigating the nature of charms in Macbeth. Amanda Kerr, visiting from UT-Tyler, presented on deconstruction and ideology in Paradise Lost.
The second morning panel transitioned the conference from historical literary conversations into contemporary cultural issues around identity and race. Jered Mabaquiao’s paper employed psychoanalytic theory to explore Asian representation in the popular television show Avatar: The Last Airbender. Clarissa Rouse’s research focused on the intersection of cultural and legal studies, pinpointing issues of systemic racism and white privilege within the U.S. criminal justice system. Ronnie K. Stephens concluded the panel with a paper on the powerful poetry of Patricia Smith and issues related to Black representation in school curricula and the media.
During lunch, EGSA President Lindsey Surratt introduced Dr. Barnes, who stepped down from the podium to deliver her keynote address in order to engage the audience more informally. The speech was titled “Houdini versus the Medium: An Unlikely Origin Story for American Literary Studies.” Dr. Barnes challenged the audience to think about the history of our own profession, using the unlikely history of magic as a lens to explore this subject, discussing how the literary critic often acts like a magician or a medium, channeling the dead (authors) and speaking for them through our interpretations of their work.
The afternoon at the conference brought three more fascinating panels, the first of which dove further into literary analysis. Moises Hernandez, a graduate of UTA who is now studying at Southern Methodist University, began the panel with some theoretical explorations of the concept of machismo, arguing for a “hermeneutics of restoration” in literature that portrays masculine points of view. Daniel Thomas Jones, a graduate student from Texas A&M University-Commerce, presented findings from his dissertation on famines in Irish literature, focusing on the work of Martin McDonagh (most recently known for making The Banshees of Inisherin). This first afternoon panel concluded with a paper by Sophie Spruce on Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which discussed the possibility that the character Anne was Austen’s ideal woman.
The next panel, which focused on the body, was noteworthy for being composed entirely of undergraduate students, whose high-level research added a fresh perspective to the conference. Daulat Bandial presented a takedown of Donna Haraway’s much celebrated cyborg, calling for more nuanced, less de-materializing feminist approaches. Nathan Rather’s paper continued the emphasis on materiality with insights on the biological concept of “model organisms,” which, Rather argued, can be a reductionist framework that ignores emergent properties. Emory McDowell, also visiting from SMU, finished this panel with a paper presenting new perspectives on Cormac McCarthy’s representation of masculinity and violence in Blood Meridian and Child of God.
The final panel of the afternoon ended the conference by moving into some unique directions. Coady Spaeth discussed the controversial concept of “correctness” as it applies to the correction of grammatical errors in student writing, particularly in the context of writing tutors in university writing centers. Wrapping up the panel and the conference was Sean Woodard, who used Lacanian psychoanalytic ideas to explicate Brian de Palma’s 1974 musical comedy horror film Phantom of the Paradise, showing images and short clips from this little-known cult classic.
In addition to President Lindsey Surratt, the EGSA executive committee is also comprised of Vice President Ashley Johnson, Treasurer Alex Yost, and Secretary Cassandra Yatron. They all deserve many thanks and kudos for organizing and coordinating this fantastic event. The conference would also not have been possible without the sponsors of the event, which include the Academic Success Center; the College of Business; the College of Liberal Arts; the Department of English; the First-Year Writing Program; the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Program; the Honors College; UTA Libraries; New Maverick Orientation, the Office of New Student Courses; and the Writing Center. Thank you for your support! Also instrumental in the success of the conference were the panel moderators from the Department of English: Dr. Jason Hogue, Dr. Penny Ingram, Dr. Timothy Morris, Dr. Jackie Fay, and Dr. Rachael Mariboho. Many thanks to them as well!
In all, this year’s EGSA conference was a resounding success, setting up expectations for more of the same in years to come.