2009 Convention Stories

    Live long...Write well

    Laura Heffner
    Kappa Pi Chapter, Alvernia University, Reading, PA

    It was the same response with all of my friends when I told them I was going to the convention. "You're going to an English Convention? What do you do there?" It got even better when I told them it was with the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta. That raised lots of eyebrows. I think most everyone thought I was making this convention up. If there aren't costumes, prosthetic ears, or fully developed fictional languages, people don't  understand the point of a convention. I must confess that I was a little confused myself. But I kept thinking, "A hotel full of English majors and various others who love English? How bad could this really be?"

    As Vice President of my chapter (Kappa Pi), I came to the convention, initially, out of obligation. I wasn't involved in clubs in high school since we really didn't have any, so I had no idea how they worked. Sarah Heckman, our President, always reassured me that things would be fine, but with a full semester and a panel to present, I was far from convinced. These thoughts of unease fueled my slight misgivings that occupied my mind on the flight to Minneapolis. I tried to calm my own fears by telling myself, "It's not like you have to know a secret handshake or spell some obscure word correctly to get in." I can honestly say, "Thank God" there was no quiz because I am a horrible speller!

    After settling in and registering on Wednesday, I explored the city for a while in an attempt to forget about my panel and all my feelings of trepidation. I spent the evening visiting famous, historical landmarks with my roommates (uh, Mall of America counts as a historical landmark, right?) and then headed back to my room to sift through the folders and papers from registration. Realizing that the Leadership Workshop was at 9:30 a.m., I decided to pray for the best and try to get some sleep.

    Thursday morning, armed with a full cup of coffee and my program, the day began. After a great session on service work for our chapter and ideas for fundraising, I started to page through my convention program. If I thought for one moment that this thing would be boring, boy was I wrong! I kept reading the different session headings, thinking to myself, "Oh! That sounds cool!" and then laughing when I saw the paper titles. "'Ethel I've got an Idea': Lucy Ricardo Seeks Fulfillment through the Feminine Mystique" (Margaret Fisk), "Off with his Head: The Symbolic Overthrow of Traditional Power in Stoker's Dracula" (Katie Edwards), and "Just Who Is This Puck Person Anyway?" (Paul Mahan) were only just a few that had me laughing. I went through no less than three times with my highlighter, marking the papers and sessions I wanted to attend. After I had three sessions or more marked for each day, I remembered I had to chair a session and attend my own panel. I went back and sadly crossed the Jane Austen session off my list of things to do for the day.

    I was running around every day, all day for the rest of convention. Late to bed so I could fit fun time in, and early to rise so I would be able to fit more in each day. All of my silly fears were unfounded, and before Friday came, I found myself already looking forward to next year's convention. All of the speakers were fantastic and it was interesting to see what other English minded people found paper-worthy. Neil Gaiman taught me that my day dreaming and fantastical thoughts are actually considered 'work' for a writer, and Michael Perry showed me that there is humor to be found in the everyday, slightly backward hometown of mine.

    It was somewhere between Neil Gaiman and Michael Perry's sessions when I realized that we are more like the stereotypical convention than I thought. We have our own special language of literature and grammar that is only truly understood by others who share our love of the written word. We might not have pointy ears, magic wands, or futuristic electronic devices, but it is this love of language, the zest for exploration, and the drive to create that binds us together in a unique fellowship of words. And to me, that is better than any other convention in the world.

    Minneapolis

    Stefanie Torres
    Alpha Nu Lambda Chapter, St. Edwards University, Austin, TX

    Stepping off the light rail, I was blasted in the face with an unwelcoming jet of icy air. My eyes stung from the cold and I was glad that my classmates and I didn't have far to walk to the hotel. Sure, I knew we had to go about eight blocks, but an eight-block-walk in Austin, Texas, is very different from an eight-block-walk in Minneapolis during the month of March.

    In one of my less favorable moments, I decided not to pack my gloves the night before my flight was scheduled to leave, which meant that my hands were completely numb less than a block into the walk to the hotel. I was sure that the temperature was actually dropping with every step I took, especially considering the snow flurries that started to fall. Not wanting to speak--or perhaps my lips were just too frozen to move--I started focusing on my reading, which was scheduled to occur in about an hour. My mind was instantly flooded with countless "what if" questions: What if my hands don't thaw before my reading and I can't grip the corner of the paper to turn the page? What if everyone laughs at my struggle with my stiff, frozen fingers? What if the moderator tells me, in my clumsy state, to just stop my reading and sit down? My nerves forced me to speed up my pace in hopes that I'd have a little more time to defrost in the hotel lobby before my reading.

    A short while later, I had finished my fiction reading, pleased that all my digits were fully functioning by the time I stepped up to the podium. I sat in awe listening to other students' stories, so impressed with their work that I was envious that I hadn't written some of the stories myself. Other students read with such confidence and I was beginning to feel that I was the only newbie at the convention. Q & A discussions didn't seem to faze anyone and questions from the audience were always thought-provoking, showing that everyone was just as engaged as I was with nearly every presenter.

    My second reading was a little rocky, but that didn't seem to bother anyone because I was bombarded with questions about my nonfiction story. I was glad that my story was so well received, and now have so many new ideas--thanks to my audience--on where I could take the story next. The image I had in my head of the question-and-answer sessions was more like I'd be sitting in front of a firing squad, but I ended up feeling like I was sitting in one of my creative writing classes discussing my story in a workshop.

    After hearing some sub-par student poetry back at school, I wasn't expecting much from the poetry readings at the convention. However, I ended up being moved to tears by some of the poetry that I heard. Although poetry has never been my strong suit, I was inspired by the work that I heard from my fellow students.

    One of the highlights of the convention for me was learning to push my story ideas further during the writing workshop led by Gary Dopp of North Central University. Through his hilarious story about a sinister ice cream man and his young daughter, Dopp gave countless ideas on revision in terms of content, structure, imagery and many other ways of altering an original idea to fit into a written work.

    I learned much more than I expected to learn at this convention and I know just how talented my fellow Sigma Tau Delta students really are. I'm glad to be back in the warmth of Texas, but I look forward to next year's convention. I just hope it's a little warmer.

     

    Four Nights in Minneapolis

    Scott Rodgers
    Kappa Pi Chapter, Alvernia University, Reading, PA

    To be perfectly honest, when I first heard of Sigma Tau Delta, I had no idea what to think. The first thing that sprung to my mind was a sorority, given that nearly every member I had encountered was a girl. Once I found out though, I became intrigued. Hey I like English, and I'm good at it, too! I can be a part of this!

    So it is no surprise that when the convention rolled around, I was raring to go. This was my first convention, and my first time really hanging around a large group of students outside of the classroom. I will be honest, I heard of Neil Gaiman. Never read anything by the guy, though. I wouldn't have even known anything beyond Alexandra Fuller and Michael Perry's names if it weren't for the descriptions in the program. Despite that, I still had promising feelings on the convention. I had transferred too late to throw my own work into the fray of submissions, but I really was intrigued at the thought of hearing from students all across the country and their papers on everything from Kurt Vonnegut to original fiction. Plus, with the convention being in Minneapolis, I could always go to the Mall of America, right?

    The first thing that hit me when we reached Minneapolis was just how cold it was. I had prepared myself on what to expect, but I didn't expect it to be worse than Pennsylvania. The thing is, it wasn't just colder than Pennsylvania, it was colder all the time. After my group's hour plus journey to figure out just how on Earth we were to reach the Hyatt Regency, we finally did. We were among the first to arrive (that's what we get for leaving at 7:20 in the morning) and some of us decided to do our tourist duties and go to the Mall of America (I don't know if going to the mall has ever been that painful, my feet were shot). But the real main event was that night.

    Now see, in our group from Alvernia, we had twelve members attend (not counting our professors). There were two guys. And we were split up. I had no idea what I was getting into. I was relegated to [sleeping on a] chair duty, . . . and decided to improvise. After a bit of searching I found that two chairs were better than one (for propping up ones feet, of course), and thus the legend was made. I slept on those chairs the entire four nights and I can proudly say they were quite comfortable. There was only mishap, however, as [one of the girls in our group] . . . (in her sleep she claims) kicked me in the head and awoke me. I was awake for only a few minutes, but just enough to hear her roll over and start snoring. Now she claims this was sinuses, but I digress, it sounded like a trip to the dentist, a blender, and a dying caribou all wrapped into one nice package.

    But this isn't as much about my roommate's misadventures (she had her fair share); it is about the convention itself. As I said, I was a transfer and too late to submit my own work. I did not stay completely for one session at all, as I was too focused on seeing a few papers from different areas. Each piece of fiction I heard was great. Being in a fiction writing class, I can appreciate the work that people put into these stories. It was captivating to see how the readers brought not only their stories, but also their characters to life, especially those that used different tones of voice to show different speakers.

    The biggest things for me, however, were the speakers. I went in expecting little and came out inspired to do more than I had ever dreamed. Alexandra Fuller was one of the most entertaining and charismatic people I have ever heard; my only regret is I did not go to the extended session. Neil Gaiman, I wish I could have hair tips from the guy. He was fantastic, and I don't know how he did it, but he signed books for every single person that wanted one. I am sure he was cramped by the end of the night, I just wish some people didn't make him sign eight books at once, oh well. Finally, Michael Perry. I don't know what else I can say about him except one word: wow. On stage and in the extended session, he was humble, down to Earth, and seemed not as much an author, as much as he seemed like a friend. Out of all the speakers, I would say he had the biggest impact on me, as just through his stories, I realized I made the right decision in wanting to write. I had teetered at various points in my college career, wondering if this was really what I wanted to do. But after listening and speaking to meet him, there is no longer a doubt.

    On the way back to Philadelphia, I read some of his book, Truck: A Love Story and I will tell you this: I will read each of his books I get my hands on. I also read some of American Gods by Neil Gaiman and a few snippets of Scribbling the Cat and The Legend of Colton H. Bryant by Alexandra Fuller, and both authors' works are added to my Amazon Wish List. All three were fantastic and I have urged each person I have spoken to since being home to look into them.

    The Sigma Tau Delta Convention this year, despite all the essays and speakers, malls and pubs, had a bigger impact on me: I got to be around some of the best people in the world. I was skeptic when I first signed on to go to this convention, but I am now hooked. It drew me closer to not only my professors, but also my peers. I met some people from back home in South Carolina, and even a guy from Iowa that nearly strangled me wanting to see my necklace. I saw a two-story Target and the Metrodome. I saw my classmate unbutton his shirt on stage and announce his love for our professor. The only negative I can think of is manning the t-shirt table. The scattering when one person sits down to look at some information isn't going to work on me next year, guys.

    But thanks to all and I will see you in St. Louis.

     

    Literary Warfare

    Kyle Strohschein
    Alpha Nu Lambda Chapter, St. Edwards University, Austin, TX

    My first night at home after the 2009 Sigma Tau Delta convention in Minneapolis, I dreamed I was having tea with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, T.S. Eliot, and Allen Ginsberg. The light in the room was warm and dim, as if lit by a candle. We sat around a square table, barely aware of each other, each of us with an ornate, blue and white china teacup. I tentatively raised the tea to my lips, found it a little hot, and set it back in its saucer to cool. Then, I looked around.

    Ginsberg chugged his tea boorishly, dribbling a little into his beard. Eliot adjusted his glasses and gazed into the metaphysical depths of his cup. Coleridge took his tea with a side of opium, which he didn't even try to hide. Woolf waved Coleridge's smoke out of her face and looked around deploringly. Cather sipped her tea slowly, and I could just make out her scrutinizing eyes scurrying around the room from above the lip of the cup. Wilde ran a hand through his downy locks, leaned forward, placing both elbows on the table, and rested his head atop his interlaced fingers.

    Then he spoke. Leave it to Oscar Wilde. I could not make out what he said--it wasn't English, exactly, but some cryptic dialect--but whatever he said, it caused Melville to jolt out of his chair and start ranting madly. Melville paced to and fro and threw his arms around as he spoke. He appeared to be lecturing, though I couldn't tell for sure because he, too, spoke in the dialect. Wilde sat back with a cool unconcern. When he flashed Melville a smirk worthy of Lord Henry, Melville flung his tea into Wilde's face. Wilde, shocked for only a moment, responded by jabbing Melville in the gut with his cane.

    While this was taking place, everybody else had begun to argue as well, and their arguments escalated just as rapidly. Woolf slapped Coleridge's opium pipe out of his hand; Coleridge took hold of Woolf's hair and yanked. Elliot mocked the proceedings until Cather wrapped him up in a strangle hold. Ginsberg, now shirtless, chortled away until Cather grabbed him, too, and held both he and Eliot, one under each arm. I hid in the corner and watched, praying I wouldn't be seen.

    I woke up before anyone was killed (which, I feel safe in assuming, would have happened, eventually.) After waking, I stayed in bed and considered the dream for awhile. As I replayed the chaos, I found nothing in it that startled or surprised me. It made sense; a brawl felt like the logical outcome of sticking seven tremendous minds in a cramped room--after all, these minds often seem too big for even the world. But something about the dream did disturb me, and it took a little while for me to realize what exactly that was. When the thought finally materialized, I felt thankful to have escaped the convention without sustaining any serious injuries. Over those three days, I had sat in several rooms similar to the one in my dream with fifteen or twenty devout followers and admirers of these minds. Complete warfare could have erupted at anytime.

    Okay, so maybe I over reacted. My dream clearly just embodied the many differing ideas and arguments I heard while in Minneapolis. I mean, we English students and professors civilly discuss our opinions; no matter how wrong somebody else's may be, we would never resort to strangle holds, tea throwing, cane wielding, or hair pulling to make a point...right?

    The theme for convention 2011: Battle Royale.

     

    Sigma Tau Delta Convention

    Sean Cullen
    Kappa Pi Chapter, Alvernia University, Reading, PA

    On March 25, 2009, I embarked on a plane ride to an international convention that quickly established itself as the highlight to my final semester as an undergraduate. The convention was held at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Sigma Tau Delta members, which is an international English honor society founded in 1924.

    When I first thought of any English honor society I usually imagined a room full of pipe-smoking, white-bearded snobs. During my stay I failed to see even a single pipe, and a diminutive number of beards in white or any shade for that matter. What I discovered was an atypical assembly of students, scholars, and others who all shared the common interest of reading and writing.

    At times the convention seemed a little disorganized, but this mix of people along with the thought-provoking sessions and presentations, the bad poetry, the speakers, the assortment of note-worthy restaurants, and the really big mall made the Sigma Tau Delta convention an experience guaranteed to please. I particularly enjoyed hearing stories of Sigma Tau Delta past, and how the Society is moving forward each year.

    The featured speakers were my favorite part of the convention. Speakers were Alexandra Fuller, Neil Gaiman, Michael Perry, and Chris Crutcher. I was the most enthused by the lectures by Alexandra Fuller and Michael Perry. I felt that their lectures were each notable in their own distinctive ways.

    Fuller had the ability to speak of a childhood that was chaotic at best in Africa, and now lives as a liberal-minded female writer in conservative Wyoming. Through all of her personal struggles and the struggles she has seen and written about, Fuller was able to make jokes, but still got a strong message across to me.

    Michael Perry's life is much different than Fuller's. He has a degree in nursing and was writing while having a mix of odd jobs that included being a truck driver, cowboy, music roadie, and firefighter. During his lecture he stayed true to himself and his unique stories. I went to Perry's question and answer period where I was lucky enough to have my question answered.

    I had asked Perry if staying true to his sense of style had ever ran him into any troubles while attempting to get any of his works published. He then told us of how his father had always stressed the importance of being who you are. He took that advice to heart and truly believed that if he had not been himself that he doubted his career would be going where he would like it to be headed. He told us of how when his first book tour was being scheduled, he changed his tour to be him driving himself around to places that people were more likely to relate, buy, and enjoy his books.

    The featured speakers may have been my favorite, but other components of the convention will remain with me for years to come. The bad poetry contest, the T-shirt skits, and the creative nonfiction sessions were three other focal points of the convention.

    The Bad Poetry Contest not only allowed me to finally let out my true feelings for Professor DeMeo, but also allowed me to see how talented some of my fellow Sigma Tau Delta members were when it came to their own terrible works of poetry. Before coming to the convention I had heard stories about this contest. I can now proudly say that I have participated in it.

    The T-shirt skit was one of the easier skits to write. Dr. DeMeo's choice of T-shirt design practically wrote our skit for us. I enjoyed being the on stage with other members of our club. Writing the script and performing it brought our club closer together. I am still delighted that we tied for second for our T-shirt skit.

    An experience that I would not want to overlook was having the opportunity to see the city of Minneapolis. All of the people who I had the pleasure to talk with were incredibly friendly and helpful. I mostly stayed in our area by the hotel. The Newsroom was an attention-grabbing restaurant. All over the restaurant were enlarged newspaper clippings that had some significance in world history.

    Unfortunately, the convention had to finally come to an end. It was not until after I was blessed enough to make some new friends, grow closer to older ones, and listen to excellent stories and presentations. I only hope that I will be in a position that I will have the opportunity to go to the convention next year. Until then, I will continue to share my stories of this convention. As a speaker quoted Polly McGuire at the Awards Banquet, "Stories are like fairy gold, the more you give away, the more you have." I feel that this captures the significance of having a convention like Sigma Tau Delta's. It is necessary to share stories in order to grow as a writer, a reader, and as an individual.