President’s Letter, April 2018

President’s Letter, April 2018

There’s a passage I like to think about in the final book of The Avignon Quintet. The text follows a caravan of characters to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for the annual gypsy gathering in the south of France. Celebrating and anointing the statue of Saint Sara, they enjoy themselves in the seaside town, and they rediscover an old friend, falling back quickly into the easy closeness they once shared. Since it comes so near the end of an epic-length work, the moment feels necessary, nostalgic, and cathartic, offering room to reflect on what has passed. It also makes space for what will come.

I thought of that festival’s parade of gardiens this past February, during the Mardi Gras season in Louisiana. One of Shreveport’s many parades passes right in front of my house, and Pamela Francis and her husband Greg came up to join the accretive group of friends, friends of friends, and extended families. Despite our nearness, I’m more used to seeing Pamela farther away from home, in Kentucky, for example, or Greece. And while it hadn’t been long since we’d last been able to be together, that moment—combining at once the public celebration of reconnecting friends and strangers, the warmth of red beans and rice and wine, the sting of beads thrown in cold air—felt full and Durrellian.

Reconnecting with friends like this is probably my favorite part of being part of the International Lawrence Durrell Society. There always seems to be another event on the horizon to anticipate! I was luckier just a week and a half after Mardi Gras to see more fellow society members in Louisville, where about ten of us met at the Louisville Conference for Literature and Culture since 1900 for the society’s regularly sponsored panel. As part of our panel this year, Pamela gave an excellent paper on the “Topopoetics of War” in the poetry of Keith Douglass—the first part of something to be continued in Chicago this summer. In addition to Pamela, we heard fantastic presentations from Sean Weidman and Jason Parks, two newcomers we hope to see more often, who spoke on Ford Madox Ford and the literary magazine Transition. While none of the presentations focused solely on the work of Durrell, they each drew connections to the historical context of Durrell and the major themes in his writing. In Louisville, these presentations always lead into fascinating discussions about the texts and their contexts, and this year was no different! After the panel, the executive board met to finalize some preparations for the upcoming Chicago conference and to discuss other matters. We also discussed and proposed a change to society bylaws, expanding the executive board to more society members in hopes of encouraging more participation. This change is one the society will discuss and vote on together in Chicago. Our meeting was long, but we made it through the task list and earned our moment to relax: first, by joining panelists for drinks and a moment of socializing away from the spotlight of the presentation, and second, by coming together for dinner at one of Louisville’s excellent restaurants, enjoying food and company once again. We very much missed seeing some of the past regular attendees of the conference, but we hope to see them in the future. And we are always happy to share our favorite parts of Louisville with fresh faces! Keep an eye out this summer for the call for papers if you think you’d like to join us next year.

While it was a personal delight to see some friends from the society in February and it was sad to say goodbye, it won’t be long until we’re next together. The conference in Louisville, like Mardi Gras before it, feels like a chance to slow down, to reconnect, and to recollect in a moment before the bigger event to come. This July, we gather in Chicago in greater numbers, our caravans coalescing from Europe and Asia and across North America, coming together in a different seaside town. It’s hard to imagine that it’s already been two years since our last conference on Crete! Nevertheless, I’m as excited for the chance to see so many other Durrellians as I am to participate in the conference for which Grace Austin and Bill Dring have prepared such exciting plans. Register for the conference and keep up with everything by visiting the conference website. (The conference program will be going live in a few weeks.) There’s plenty happening those days in July, and our attendees will ultimately make it something we all remember. I look forward to seeing you there.