English professor, students travel to international conference

From left to right: Jolanta Wawrzycka, Fritz Senn, Katie Smith, Marti Williams and Mikaela Kelley

Earlier this month, two Radford University students – one graduate and one undergraduate – made the journey to Rome, where they presented papers at the 10th annual James Joyce Italian Foundation Graduate Conference.

English Professor Jolanta Wawrzycka has attended all ten conferences, bringing seven students over the years. This year, in addition to the two students, Wawrzycka’s former student and current adjunct faculty member Katie Smith also joined the conference

Graduate student Marti Williams and undergraduate student Mikaela Kelley each presented on panels during the two-day conference. The conference – held in annually in early February to celebrate Joyce’s birthday – hosts scholars from across the globe to celebrate the works of the Irish writer and his nearly two-decade long residency in the city of Trieste, Italy.

The conference is sponsored by the James Joyce Italian Foundation, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Rome III. It promotes international study and research by graduate students and academics who specialize in Irish Studies and James.

Wawrzycka spoke in her own session titled “James Joyce’s Künstlerroman: Writing the After-Self”

“Künstlerroman is a term that names a novel about the growth of an artist, which is one of the ways that critics describe Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,’” she said. “My presentation celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publication of this novel. I focused on the development of the young artist’s soul by discussing a few Aristotelian elements that Joyce used in his novel.”  

Williams’ presentation dealt with “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and his short story "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" from “Dubliners.” The graduate student made a unit plan to help first-time readers with the historical nuances contained within the text.

She said the opportunity was humbling to experience as a graduate student.

“I felt no sense of authority whatsoever to speak to these people on a topic they had been studying longer than I had been alive,” Williams said. “Yet, it was also hopeful in the sense that I could sit and simply soak up the knowledge from these speakers.”

For Kelley, the experience was a journey into the unknown, as she had never before attended a conference.

“I was grateful to have Marti as my travel companion, as well as Katie Smith and Dr. Wawrzycka for support during the conference,” Kelley said. “The entire experience went even better than I expected.”

Her presentation consisted of a re-reading of Joyce’s short story “Counterparts,” using the literary theories of Mikhail Bakhtin, who explored the carnivalesque, a literary style, and the power of hierarchical power subversion.

“Linking Joyce and Bakhtin was fascinating, because it led me to discover the sinister aspect of setting up a joyful outcome and then systematically dismantling it, as Joyce does,” Kelley explained. 

After the academic experience, Kelley said that she constantly looks for correlations and connections between her classes, readings or conversations.

“Being surrounded by a room full of individuals who care deeply about literature, and Joyce in particular, caused me to stifle tears of joy several times,” Kelley said. “Since returning, I've kept that joyful energy.”

The first international conference attended by Smith left her with an affirmation of the importance of lifelong learning.

“One of the tenets of my teaching philosophy is that every student is a teacher and every teacher is a learner,” Smith said. “Going to this conference put into perspective the idea that every person is always continuing his or her education.”

Smith’s presentation stemmed from her thesis done at Radford University, written under the guidance of Wawrzycka. The presentation focused on the cultural significance of marriage and spinsterhood in 20th century Ireland and how those historical and social factors influenced the female characters in Joyce’s “Dubliners.” By attending the conference, Smith saw contributions come together to create conversation.

Wawrzycka loves taking students to this international conference.

“I really am very happy when students can take advantage of this opportunity,” she said. “It inspires me academically and keeps me on my toes. I get to work with my students on a more advanced level – which is very different from the work we do in the classroom. I love to see my students share their work on the international scene. It’s the best perk of my job.”

Mar 2, 2017
Max Esterhuizen
(540) 831-7749