Regional women’s studies conference envisions a ‘Feminist and Queer South’

Posted on Mar 7 2019 - 5:50am by Emma Rose Davis

The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies will host the annual Southeastern Women’s Studies Association’s conference from today through Saturday. The conference’s 50 sessions, two keynotes and several other events will work toward “Envisioning a Feminist and Queer South,” this year’s theme.

SEWSA, which is a regional branch of the National Women’s Studies Association, is a feminist organization that promotes women’s studies scholarship in all forms.

The panels feature analyses of gender and sexuality in a wide range of disciplines, most with an emphasis on the topics of activism, literature, pedagogy and the queer South.

Jamie Harker, the director of the Sarah Isom Center and SEWSA’s annual conference chair, said she is excited about having this event at the university.

“This is the first time that Southeastern Women’s Studies Association has been in the state of Mississippi, so it is an honor for the state’s flagship institution to host SEWSA,” Harker said. “We are excited to give our students the chance to hear outstanding, original research and to introduce visiting scholars to our university community.”

Both keynote lectures align with the conference’s main theme of expanding ideas about the roles of women and LGBTQ people in the South.

  1. Patrick Johnson, a professor of performance and African-American studies at Northwestern University, will speak at 1 p.m. today at the Ford Ballroom inside the Inn at Ole Miss about his new book of oral history “Black. Queer. Southern. Women.” At noon on Friday also at the Ford Ballroom, Minnie Bruce Pratt, a poet and current professor at Syracuse University, will talk about her activism with Feminary, a feminist journal that was based in North Carolina from 1969-1982.

Students will also have a chance to present their own work. Documentary expression graduate student Mary Knight will take part in a group performance and speak about her master’s thesis work on Hubert Creekmore.

“I’m looking forward to sharing my research and getting feedback on it and to also learn from others about their challenges in doing archival research and get pointers on where to look for information I haven’t yet been able to find,” Knight said.

Creekmore, who was a Water Valley native and friend of notable authors like Eudora Welty, remained closeted about his homosexuality while living in rural Mississippi. But when Creekmore moved to New York, he began writing poems and novels that critiqued Southern life, including “The Welcome” which spoke specifically about being a gay man in the state.  

Another graduate student, Ellie Campbell will perform an oral history piece about LGBTQ history in North Mississippi and will also show her short film “Tupelo Pride,” which is about the city’s first-ever pride event.

Campbell said she hopes to network and see influential activists talk about their work.

“I’m hoping to get involved with the Invisible Histories Project from Birmingham. Their directors, Joshua Burford and Maigen Sullivan, are speaking and meeting with grad students,” Campbell said. “And of course, I’m really thrilled to get to see both Minnie Bruce Pratt and E. Patrick Johnson speak.”

Alysia Steele and Jessica Wilkerson, both Ole Miss professors, will lead a workshop focusing on the basics of oral history interviewing, including how to conduct interviews, take photographs,  record high-quality audio and use oral history interviews responsibly.

“The workshop will be a primer for those interested in taking the leap into oral history interviewing as part of their research and scholarship,” Wilkerson said.

Kevin Cozart, operations coordinator for the Isom Center and co-chair of this year’s SEWSA conference, attended the annual SEWSA conference for the first time when Kennesaw State University hosted it in 2017. At that year’s conference, he began the process of bringing the conference to the University of Mississippi.

Cozart said the process has been a long one. The Isom Center originally planned to host in 2020, but, when 2019’s tentative hosts asked to delay for a year, SEWSA’s president asked if the Isom Center would take on the responsibility.

“After discussions and gaining support from the university, the decision was finalized in the fall of 2017, and we’ve been planning for the last 18 months,” Cozart said.