It’s about to be conference time for me. Like Lee Bessette, who wrote last week about being among her people, I’m about to go join mine. The Children’s Literature Association, which meets annually in June, is my academic home, the group of colleagues that I don’t have here at my job. While folks at larger research universities may have colleagues in their field right on campus, those of us at smaller schools are often “the only one” in a field or subfield, so we are especially happy to gather with our peers at our once a year event.
As I’m pretty sure I’ve said before, I love my job. But I also love having colleagues who study what I study, who know who I’m talking about when I mention George MacDonald, Jean Ingelow, Frances Hardinge, or M.T. Anderson. I love going to talks by my friends and learning what they’ve been thinking about lately; I love going out to eat with them and having the conversation range easily from teaching to scholarship to service and back again. We share book recommendations, research tips, and, especially, encouragement. And then, after about three days, we all go home again.
With social media many of us keep up in between conferences, but it’s not the same. I do worry, frequently, about the environmental impact of my (fairly rare, all things considered) academic travel, but in the end the personal relationships that we establish as professionals really are valuable—they spawn collaborations, writing groups, new courses, articles, book projects…and who even knows what else?
This year I will also have the pleasure of bringing my daughter along with me to the conference. She’s just developed a thesis topic for next year that involves children’s and young adult literature, so she has a legitimate reason to be there —and will have the registration packet to prove it. We may go our separate ways during the days, but I’m looking forward to debriefing after a day of panels with her, to hear what she’s learned and to share what I have. It’s also a last concentrated time together before she goes abroad for part of the summer, and then returns to college for her senior year this fall. But for a short time, I can imagine that I do have at least one colleague here, after all, even if I did have to grow her myself.