Last weekend in Washington, D.C., 22 Woolson scholars—or Woolites (as we call ourselves)—gathered to share their research and celebrate the Woolson Society’s twentieth anniversary. Twenty-two participants may not sound like much, but their energy and enthusiasm far exceed their numbers. As the conference organizer, I had my share of worries, but they faded in the midst of so much conviviality and strong scholarship.
As President of the society, I started things off with the usual “State of the Society.” I expressed some concerns, not the least of which is that after a period of many publications on Woolson (the letters, the collection of essays on her southern work), nothing has been published on her in the past two years, since our last conference, according to the MLA database. Yet, that will soon change. Not only will my biography come out next February, but so will a collection of her stories (more on this in a later post).
I then did a reading from the biography, sharing a chapter on Woolson’s life when she lived in Bellosguardo, outside of Florence, probably the happiest and saddest time of her life. It was a surreal experience reading the words out loud that have been jangling around silently in my head to a room full of people. As I looked out at the crowd, I could see the emotion in their faces as I read some of the sadder parts. And when I read some of the lighter parts, it was a relief to hear their laughter. Much of Woolson’s story is sad, but I want to convey her resilience and potent sense of humor as well. Afterwards, it was heartening to hear so many positive responses. I think the enthusiasm of Woolites and their eagerness to finally see the book in print are second only to my own.
After that I could sit back and listen to all of the wonderful papers that covered everything from Woolson’s poetry to the predominance of precipices in her and others’ fiction on the “American girl” to the ways she anticipates Faulkner in one of her southern stories. It was a pleasure to hear so many original readings of her work. I can’t wait to see some of these papers in print.
When I came home, it was a relief to be out of the snow and sleet of D.C., but even more it was a disappointment to have to return to the daily routine. Conferences can be exhilarating experiences (although they aren’t always), and the Woolson conferences are to me the most stimulating. I am ready now for the final push to complete the revised manuscript and send it off to my editor by the end of the week. I’m putting the final touches on the prologue and epilogue, and then I will push ahead to the collection of stories. Thanks, Woolites, for the encouragement and the energy that will help me finally cross the finish line!