This weekend Professor Janine Utell, chair of the English department, will travel across the continent to deliver the Keynote Address atthe 11th Annual Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature. The conference will be held at the University of Portland, where Professor Utell will speak on Saturday. The conference is sponsored in part by the English department there. The Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature creates a professional atmosphere to promote student criticism and challenge student critics. NUCL gives undergraduate and advanced high school students an opportunity to present their own scholarly papers or creative works in organized panels of their peers. Students are able to share and discuss their knowledge through these presentations, and are encouraged to participate in the discussion of fellow NUCL papers. Aside from presenting their papers, and listening to papers written by their peers, students are invited to attend NUCL’s keynote speakers, who are noted academics and writers in the field of literature.
Our own Professor Utell will be delivering a multimedia lecture that purportedly involves the music of Barry Manilow while also addressing the importance of literary study in higher education and in society at large. Utell believes that literary criticism can be intellectually playful as well as profoundly ethical. She says,
I’m interested in the question of why literary criticism matters, especially in a time when, in the humanities and English particularly, we talk a lot about ‘crisis’: the ‘crisis in the humanities.’ I want my comments to affirm the good work and passion of every person in that audience; I want to give the audience some ideas for how to respond to the question of why literature matters; and I want to articulate for others and for myself what literary criticism is supposed to do. Ultimately, I think it’s a combination of a desire to play and a desire to understand others that draws us to literature, and good criticism is both a space for those desires to come together, and a guide for how to uncover the potential for those impulses in what we read.