In this post, Dr Aidan Byrne reports on the Association for Welsh Writing in English conference at Gregynog Hall, Newtown, on 27-29 March 2015.
This year, I co-organised the Association for Welsh Writing in English conference alongside Professor Diana Wallace of the University of South Wales, with the theme The Country and the City With Raymond Williams in mind, and recognising challenging new work by urban and post-bucolic authors such as Rachel Tresize and Niall Griffiths, the conference tried to explore themes such as green deserts, the countryside as crime scene, urban Welsh-language culture and much more besides.
Keynote speakers were Professor Helen Fulton from Bristol University who traced Arthurian myths about Carleon from Geoffrey of Monmouth into the contemporary era; Dinah Jones whose mixed-media Welsh-language documentary on controversial author Caradoc Evans is broadcast on S4C on April 12th; playwright and film director Ed Thomas (whose Ceredigion crime drama was made twice, in Welsh as Y Gwyll and as Hinterland in English with critical and financial success); and Christopher Meredith whose poems and novels often explore the porous borders between urban and rural, Welsh and English, prose and poetry. I recorded short interviews with Ed and Chris, which are well worth watching:
With speakers from as far afield as Wolverhampton, Brazil (Ugo Rivetti) and Japan (Prof Yasuo Kawabata, who recently re-translated Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Dr Shintaro Kawabata), the 27th AWWE conference lived up to its reputation as a cutting-edge, ambitious event which manages to attract renowned scholars (such as Sally Roberts Jones who published her first poem in 1952 and read new work on the first night before closing the conference with a superbly provocative paper on the contested definitions of Welsh Writing in English: ‘a bloodsport’ as she put it) while giving new scholars a chance to establish themselves. Aberystwyth student Jamie Harris (a Wolverhampton Grammar School alumnus) won the M Wynn Thomas Prize for new scholars for his article on Iain Sinclair as a Welsh author, while eighteenth-century specialist Heather Williams of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies won the Open category for her bravura article on Iolo Morgannwg from the perspective of Translation Studies. As a competition judge, I can honestly say that the field is in for exciting times, and it’s great to see the border between Wales’s English and Welsh-language cultures and scholarly communities becoming a little more porous. You can see them in conversation with me in these short videos:
Alongside fascinating presentations (I came away with a massive reading list), we hosted a wine reception sponsored by Honno Books, the last independent women’s press, to mark the publication of Lily Tobias’s My Mother’s House and Jasmine Donahaye’s biography of the author: Jasmine’s speech was impassioned and inspiring on the need to restore not just Tobias’s prominence, but that of other female authors excluded from the major publishing series of our time. The panel on Caradoc Evans also produced fireworks as M Wynn Thomas pronounced him ‘a writer of genius . . . narrow genius’ while author and academic Mary-Ann Constantine talked candidly about how she struggled to read his work which she found alienating as well as compelling. The Welsh Books Council provided a bookshop, which did no good at all for my bank balance, and the convivial atmosphere gained even more energy from the presence of a lively school prom in the building on the first night.
I can thoroughly recommend organising a conference (or attending one). It takes a lot of work but when you can gather together the brightest minds of a generation or two, sparks fly, ideas are refined, new books are imagined, and new directions are identified. Talking of which, the British Comparative Literature Association’s 2016 conference will be in Wolverhampton. Get writing.