Shortly after our MA literature concentration student, Kelsey Virginia Downs Dufresne, presented at the 2019 American Literature Association Conference in Boston, Massachusetts she flew on the next plane to New York to participate in the 2019 International Whitman Week conference.
Dufresne shares her personal experiences below:
“At the 30th annual ALA Conference in Boston, I was able to present my research with the Langston Hughes Society. My paper was titled: “Langston Hughes as Artist: Tracing the Literary Word in the Artistic Medium.” At the conference, I was able to attend panels on Digital Humanities, Careers, Emily Dickinson pedagogy, and more. I was able to visit and explore a new city and think critically about our field and academia – yet perhaps most significantly, I was introduced to the term “public humanities” for the first time. I then was able to see public humanities in fruition through the International Whitman Week in New York City as the world celebrated Walt Whitman‘s 200th birthday. This week-long conference was open to the public and attendees included phd candidates from around the world, MA candidates such as myself, students in midst of their undergrad career, and then local Brooklynites and Whitmaniacs (as they proudly call themselves). This conference was focused on not only scholarly inquiry, but also community outreach and engagement; therefore, I attended lectures and small group sessions with some of the best Whitman scholars from around the world (including Ed Folsom and Ken Price of the Whitman Archive, Betsy Erkkila, Karen Karbiener, Jesse Merandy who created the first DH dissertation ever (!!), Ed Whitley, Lindsay Tuggle, Sascha Pöhlmann, Eric Conrad, and Éric Athenot), while also attending printing press demonstrations from print-shops that publish and print in the method that Whitman would have and attending urban hikes through Whitman‘s Brooklyn (where I was even able to stand outside the home where Whitman finished his first edition of Leaves of Grass – an unmarked historical site that the Walt Whitman Initiative is working hard to preserve before it may be torn down due to extensive construction and gentrification). Being immersed in Whitman studies for an entire week, with our days running from dawn to far beyond dusk, I can only hope that we will eventually study all authors this way as it made me fall in love with Whitman‘s writing in a way I never anticipated.
The highlight of this experience was attending Walt Whitman‘s 200th Birthday party at his birthplace on Long Island where we celebrated the life and legacy of America’s Great Gray and Gay Poet. But even better than eating cake with famous scholars and local Long Islanders with a Long Island Whitman beer in hand, I made some amazingly beautiful friendships that I will treasure forever. The next IWW will be in Rome (June 2020) – and I want to encourage everyone in our department to attend as it was such a formative experience, and one that I will never forget.
Lastly, my heart was overjoyed to see a Langston Hughes banner proudly hanging from the rafters on the site of Whitman‘s Birthplace – my studies had come full circle in that moment. I thank Dr. Jason Miller for introducing both of these writers to me – and for encouraging me to attend both of these academic experiences. I am beyond grateful for our department’s support in attending these events – and NC State is on the map of the minds of these scholars now!
Fun fact: I walked 68.7 miles during my travel experiences!”