by Sarah Geegan
The 73rd annual convention of the College Language Association (CLA) will blossom in the Bluegrass this year. Themed, "Mason-Dixon and Maginot Lines: Borders, Boundaries and Barriers in Languages and Literatures," the conference will last from April 11-13, with pre-convention events on Wednesday, April 10.
The CLA, an organization that fosters high professional standards for teachers of languages, literature and creative writing, will hold its annual convention at the University of Kentucky. The event will include scholarly presentations, opportunities to exchange ideas with other colleagues and dialogues with specialists brought in by the association.
UK English professor Vershawn Young led the effort both to secure UK's role as host, and to plan the four days of events.
"What’s really special about the conference at UK is the way in which we are gearing the conference," Young said. "It is not just for the conference participants. We're trying to make it sort of a university and community conference as well."
Young said that the opportunity to highlight valuable research and archives housed at the University of Kentucky Libraries is among the focal points of the conference.
"We want to show off the kind of research, teaching and interests that we have at UK,” Young said. "There are a number of diversity initiatives on campus, there are archives and special collections related to African Americans at the Margaret I. King Library; There is an African-American writers database, with famous African-American Kentucky writers, and a Kentuckians' database. That research is just so valuable; I know so many people are looking forward to seeing it."
The CLA's last and only convention in Kentucky took place 24 years ago in Frankfort. CLA President Mario A. Chandler, a native Kentuckian, said he was very pleased for the conference to return to the Commonwealth.
"As a native Kentuckian (born and raised in Louisville)," Chandler said. "I am excited and proud that the University of Kentucky will host a convention of the College Language Association during my presidency."
Chandler said that the convention benefits its participants and its community through "the serious engagement of cutting-edge and historically relevant literary and linguistic scholarship that nurtures the professional as well as the personal cultivation of its members."
A Wednesday night pre-convention event will feature the collections relevant to African Americans at the Margaret I. King Library, and afterward Charlotte Peirce Baker, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Vanderbilt University, will read from her memoir “This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son.” Copies of Peirce Baker’s book will be available for purchase and signing.
Other speakers include three Affrilachian women poets: Cave Canem Fellow, Bianca Spriggs, a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Lexington; regional expressionist Shayla Lawson; and award-winning writer Joy Priest, who also serves as copy editor for "pluck! Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture." Each of these speakers will present on Thursday night.
The keynote speaker for the conference, E. Patrick Johnson, will speak on Friday night. Johnson is the Carlos Montezuma professor of performance studies and African American studies at Northwestern University. A scholar, artist and activist, Johnson has performed nationally and internationally and has published widely in the areas of race, gender, sexuality and performance.
As a way to orient visiting scholars to Lexington, this year's conference also partnered with the Lexington Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
"I think that Lexington is a cultural reservoir," Young said. "So on Saturday we are offering for people to tour the various gems within Lexington, like the distilleries and the Kentucky Horse Park. We really want to show off Lexington, and the people at the Convention and Visitor's Bureau have really bent over backwards to help us plan these events."