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Locations and Dislocations: Places and Spaces in Contemporary Women’s Writing

Paula McGrath is the author of two novels, Generation, and A History of Running Away. She is in her final year of an Irish Research Council-funded PhD student at University of Limerick, Ireland, working on representations of trauma in fiction. She teaches Creative Writing in University College Dublin.

Paula McGrath

This July, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association (CWWA) conference, Locations and Dislocations: Places and Spaces in Contemporary Women’s Writing. The conference theme was inspired by its location at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Northern Ontario, Canada, which occupies the historical site of the former Shingwauk Residential School to which displaced Anishinaabe children were sent to receive a colonial “education. We in Ireland are not unfamiliar with religious-run residential institutions, so it was fascinating to learn the history of the school, courtesy of a free guided tour and exhibition, and to observe the work being done, led by the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, to honour and commemorate its survivors.

Keynotes from poets Gwen Benaway and Columpa Bobb, both with links to residential schools, were inspirational and moving. Panels included: Symbolic Spaces; (Dis)comforting Domestic Spaces; Nature Writing; Beyond the Nation; Trans-cultural Critique; Nature Writing; Life Writing and “Ethical Aesthetics”, with panellists hailing from around the globe. My own paper was entitled “Beyond Nature: New Directions for Writing Trauma”. I also had the opportunity to give a reading from my novel, Generation (2015), the opening of which is based on my father’s mining experience in the region in the fifties. Canadian TV came along to listen:

On our last day, we were treated to a field trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park and Agawa Pictographs, on a yellow school bus!

Many thanks to Alice Ridout for organising an amazing conference, and to AHSS for the funding which made it possible.

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