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Thursday, March 29, 2012

#ICFA -- Some Late Thoughts on an Amazing Conference

Before I talk about my brief, but wonderful experience at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (now almost a week since I was forced to leave by the whims of time), you should check out Jeff Vandermeer's excellent recap here.  It best sums up, I think, the general feeling one returns home with after being surrounded by so many friends and colleagues, particularly when one is a rather important writer (Vandermeer is such a writer).

Now for my thoughts...

Wandering the Halls (or, Meeting and Not Meeting) 
I think one missing component explains the impact ICFA had on me:  I completely forgot to take pictures of people, things, places, or even the alligator who made his presence known to everyone who hung out around the pool.  Not because I didn't have a camera, but because I simply forgot the darn thing was in my bag while at the actual conference.

Why?  Part of it could have to do with the fact that many of the people at ICFA are writers I greatly
respect (whether as people or writers).  I met Nalo Hopkinson (for the second time in my short life) and Karen Lord.  While my discussions with them were short, I still enjoyed meeting them both and hope to meet them again.  I also met up with Mari Ness, who I met with John Ottinger at MegaCon in Orlando last year.  Mari was as delightful as ever and introduced me to a number of people who I will remember by face, but will probably not remember by name (starstruck as I was).

Of the people I didn't get a chance to speak with were China Mieville (spoke with him at Eaton last year, and he is truly one of the brightest, friendliest people with which I've had the pleasure to speak), Nick Mamatas (who always seemed somewhere I wasn't), Jeff Vandermeer (who was either preoccupied with people or at one of his talks, which conflicted with my paper presentation), Ann Vandermeer (ditto), Sheila Williams, Delia Sherman, John Rieder (though I had lunch with him on Monday, and attended his talk later that evening), Jeffrey Cohen (the guest scholar who wrote about his experiences here), Christopher Barzak (who I never saw, but wish I had -- One For Sorrow is one of the best books I have ever read), and so many others.  I hope that I will have more courage at future ICFA conferences (I am so antisocial when it comes to such things).

But I did make a new friend at the conference.  Her name is Mandy Mahaffey, a teacher at Valencia Community College and a U of Florida PhD. in English hopeful.  She came to my panel (which I'll talk about below) and we really hit it off (her and my roomie/friend, Kayley).  And because of her, I got to meet Robert J. Sawyer, whose presence put me in a constant state of awe.  Mr. Sawyer, by the way, is one of the most gracious people I have ever met.  He gave me advice on writing, we talked about the good and the bad of Star Wars, other science fiction properties, movie making, and much more.  There was also a little of male bonding (of the "we're being silly" kind).  And he probably did a lot of work to make me feel at ease, because I can guarantee you that I looked like a complete fool while trying to hold a conversation with a man who, quite honestly, is one of the most important writers of our age (yes, I am willing to make that statement and stick to it).  And I'd never met him before.  Yet there I was with Robert J. Sawyer and Mandy and Carolyn Clink (a noted poet and Mr. Sawyer's partner in crime), having a conversation.  It was wonderful.  And I came out having learned so much.

That alone would make ICFA one of the best conferences an SF/F scholar and wannabe-writer could ever attend.

But then there's this...

The Presentation Experience (or, Holy Crap, This is Incredible) 
I'm going to shut up soon, but I did want to talk about how much fun I had presenting my paper at ICFA.  I've been to a lot of conferences since I started graduate school.  Some have been great.  Others have not.  Usually this is because the audience isn't receptive, there isn't an audience to speak of, or the audience responds in ways that aren't conducive for an exchange (one individual at a conference I attended spent the entire 15-20 minute Q&A session grilling one of the panelists on a single point -- and by "grill" I mean "talked for most of the 15-20 minutes and wouldn't let it go").

But that's not what happened at ICFA.  Most of the folks at my panel were from the U of Florida, which was great, but the few who weren't were enormously receptive.  One panelist challenged me on my inclusion of Kage Baker's The House of the Stag among works of postcolonial literature, but in a way that, I think, was helpful.  Another asked me some interesting questions related to her fields of interest (queer theory, etc.), which inevitably led to a great discussion afterwards (and there begins my friendship with Mandy).  And the other panelists (my friends Kendra and NaToya) got questions too.  It was, to put it bluntly, a fantastic experience. And Now to Shut Up All in all, ICFA turned out to be an amazing conference.  I will be back next year.  Period.  I have to be!  So expect me there... 



P.S.:  There was also a very interesting bit of male bonding with a friend from the U of Florida.  I will probably write about that later, because it's that special.

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