So this is the LAST December MLA covention (an announcement that got a round of applause at the Presidential Address Monday night). I truly understand the reasons behind the change (how crazy is it to have a major convention right after Xmas?), but for those of us on the quarter system, the switch to the first Thurs-Sat in January means we miss several days during the first week of the quarter (except for those years when we begin the 2nd week of January–all depending on when Jan 1st occurs).
Anyway, that’s not the only change. There are more pre-convention workshops on engaging/participatory topics (this year there was one on Women and Academic Leadership, which was so popular that it filled up quickly despite an extra fee). There are more sessions geared specifically toward community college faculty thanks in part to the work by the Committee on Community Colleges (and of course there is the resulting debate about whether more cc-sessions are preferable to more major, i.e. presidential theme- panels that include cc-faculty). I heard that in Texas, over 50% of ALL college students are currently at community colleges: it’s a good time for the MLA to try to entice those potential new members to their national disciplinary organization.
There are more panels on digital humanities. And more panels on the practical aspects of teaching, including one on “Reading as a Teacher: A Workshop for Teachers of Literature”–an experimental workshop session, one of the various types of sessions that will be encouraged in the “new” MLA in an attempt to get away from the “reading a paper” model more common at a typical MLA panel.
The book exhibit also seems more compact and comfortable (though maybe that means less attended?) allowing for more casual discussion with publishers (and more access to the free wine and cheese at cocktail hour, but that’s really not the point). One publisher told me that fewer folks are buying books or taking the freebies because of carry-on luggage restrictions (I”m in that category) which may mean that fewer folks are giving in to temptation by visiting the exhibits?
One irony: NYU Press was offering a drawing for a free Amazon Kindle (with the submission of a business card, the better for them to send us ads for the rest of our lives no doubt): I chatted with the sales person (or editor?) about how amusing I thought that was, but he wasn’t biting: instead he claimed that over 150 of their books were now available on Kindle (however, the winner of the Kindle would not get one pre-loaded with NYU books). One NYU writer I talked with balked at the idea that his book would be available on Kindle interestingly.
I also noted that for the first time, there was no line of computers available in the exhibit hall for folks to check email for free: in the past, I stood in that line daily. Now, I have a netbook (taking up the space of at least one hard cover book). I wonder how many folks were disappointed by the loss of those freely available computers? I saw so many people, including presumably poor graduate students, with e-mail capable phones, however, that I may just be living in the past (and damn, I want one of those phones!).
I’m feeling the love: these are positive changes at the MLA at a time when job opportunities for those looking for 4-year college/research university positions are shrinking (and it will be interesting to see in winter/spring how many new positions become available at community colleges), when the fiscal health and membership figures for the organization are still strong, but not quite as rosy as in the past. I know that smaller, more nimble groups (such as TYCA , Two Year College Association) began to offer new formats for their conference sessions years ago, and it’s exciting to see the MLA adopt the strengths of the smaller conferences while maintaining the variety and energy of a large, national conference.