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Meet Our Keynote Speaker: Emily Woster


Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve introduced to you the Keynote Speakers who will speaking at the L.M. Montgomery and Reading Conference: Dr. Elizabeth EpperlyDr. Catherine Sheldrick Rossand Dr. Margaret Mackey. The last Keynote Speaker is Dr. Emily Woster, LMMI’s Visiting Scholar and Co-Chair for the conference. She is also an assistant professor in the department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She earned her Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University. Emily’s work has focused primarily on the reading lives and textual worlds of L.M. Montgomery, including a chapter in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911-1942. Her broader research interests straddle the worlds between women’s life writing, children’s literature, and English Studies. Emily is Managing Editor of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies.

Melanie Fishbane (MF):You have attended the conference since you were 19. What are some of the things that you’ve noticed over the years? What has changed/grown? 

Emily Woster (EW):Besides me? I think the conferences have done nothing but grow in scope and scale.

When I attended my first conference I was actually 17, I had just finished my last year of high school. I had no idea what an academic conference was like other than the fact that there would be people there like my Mom and I, who were compelled to learn as much as possible about Montgomery. We were welcomed with open arms, and I like to think that wasn't just because my 12-year-old sister, Anne, and I were the youngest, most aptly named, people there. I learned a lot about Montgomery, sure, but I also learned a lot about the important work that is shared by presenters and shared within the exchanges around them. That first conference actually showed me exactly what I wanted to "be when I grew up," and so I was still LMM-crazy enough to submit a paper for the next conference. The conference organizers were generous enough to accept it, so I first presented at the ripe old age of 19. But really, that all-important, vibrant exchanging of ideas hasn't changed at all in the conferences since that one. 

What I have noticed though, is that the "boundaries" of LMM studies have grown in wonderful ways and that, as a result, the scope of the conferences seem to stretch and grow, too. The themes of the conferences reflect a bit of this growth --from the very intimate with "L.M. Montgomery and Life Writing" to the broad, global implications of "Classic" and of gender--but so, too, does the makeup of the conference speakers and attendees. I love that more and more presenters come from fields other than literature and from countries all over the world. I think the LMMI has cultivated an incredible community of thinkers and researchers, sure to stretch our definitions of "Montgomery Studies" even further. 

MF:You have always been interested in Montgomery’s reading and re-reading experience. What was it about her process that was so fascinating to you? 

EW:Her reading (and writing) processes have always fascinated me because they are at once intimately familiar while appearing completely obsessive and foreign. When I first picked up the Journals at age 16, I was struck by the fact that she spoke about reading the same way I felt about it. But her means of expressing that feeling was so foreign to me and so incredibly diffuse. Evidence of Montgomery's reading and re-reading experience(s) appear in nearly every artifact (textual or otherwise) that she left behind. The sheer number of literary experiences she had still astounds me, though I've been studying this part of her work for the last 15 years. I'm hoping some of the papers I hear at the conference will help me understand this further and/or help me understand more about why readers thrill to other readers so thoroughly.  

MF:How has Montgomery’s reading influenced your own reading of her books? 

EW:In many ways, Montgomery's reading hasn't changed my own at all. I've always read her books with an eye towards their intertextuality. Once, early in graduate school, I did a little audit of all the papers I'd ever written. Every single one, without exception, was either about intertextuality or reading practice or they were intensely concerned with how one text influences another. This exercise showed me that I've apparently always been fascinated by intertextuality, by how others read. Really, I've never not noticed how much Montgomery's works lead to those she read. This is probably a research paper for another time!

MF: In your talk description, you discuss confronting what some scholars have said about Montgomery’s texts, as well as your own. Can you speak to that more fully?

EW:There are two "narratives" about Montgomery's work that I think my research confronts. 

The first is an old thought by Clarence Karr who tried constructing a database to record some of the literary allusions in Montgomery's works. In an article for Canadian Children’s Literature / Littérature canadienne pour la jeunesse,  "Addicted to Reading: L.M. Montgomery and the Pleasures of Reading," (1989) Karr claimed that such a project was unfeasible, and perhaps even unnecessary, because there would be no way to "meaningfully" categorize the sheer volume of references. Since that time Rea Wilmshurst did just that! And I have been working on adding to her "database" of allusions as well. Karr's conclusion, that one cannot or perhaps should not tackle a quantitative analysis of her reading, ignores the possibilities available to those who think in terms of qualitative analysis. I sometimes hear this line of thinking repeated in regards to other parts of the volume of "Montgomeryana" out there. How will we possibly find all her short stories? Will we ever know how many times "A Baking of Gingersnaps" was reprinted? How many Montgomery first editions remain "undiscovered"? These questions seem overwhelmingly impossible to answer at first, but I think important work done by Benjamin LefebvreCarolyn Strom Collins, and my late mother, among many, many others, is proving just the opposite: that in searching for and tracking down the bits and pieces of these large questions, we learn so much more than just the quantitative. It is exciting to me that there is so much more to learn, no matter how daunting it may seem.

The second narrative that I will touch on has more to do with Montgomery's perceptions about writing, literature, and nature. I will speak more to this during my talk, but I hope to push our discussions of Montgomery and nature (how perfect that this collection was just released!) using what I've learned about her reading.

MF:You are now LMMI’s Visiting Scholar and a Co-chair of the conference. What kinds of things have you learned and are looking forward to sharing at this year’s conference?

EW:I am so looking forward to hearing how speakers take up and interpret the theme of L.M. Montgomery and Reading. The topic has been the foundation of my own research since I was an undergraduate, but I can't wait to see what scholars from across disciplines and across the globe do with it. As Co-chair, I've really enjoyed getting to know the LMMI more fully, and I've really come to appreciate how momentous its 25th anniversary is. I can't wait to celebrate that anniversary, and share a few surprises, with the conference participants.