Tag Archive | conference

Lisbon, Part I

In the second half of June, I went to LabPhon, a phonetics and phonology conference, in Lisbon. I had never been to Portugal before, and so when I and several other colleagues from my department were accepted, I decided to go to my first international conference. In preparation, I ordered a Portuguese phrasebook from France and proceeded to study European Portuguese extremely halfheartedly for weeks. It didn’t help that the phrasebook’s explanation of Portuguese pronunciation was abominable.

LabPhon itself was good. I presented my poster and had some fulfilling conversations with fellow linguists. It was also a good place to see friends from other universities. That said, I did skip a lot of the conference to explore Lisbon. Here are the highlights:

Tuesday

Isabelle and I met up in the afternoon and walked to the Terreiro do Paço, on the estuary of the Tagus. From there, it was a short walk to the Casa dos Bicos, or House of Beaks, a 16th century house whose façade is covered in pyramid-shaped protrusions reminiscent of beaks. It reminded me a little of the beaky portal of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Iffley.

Casa dos Bicos

Inside, on the ground floor, there were remnants of the Roman walls, and upstairs was the Fundação José Saramago, the museum of one of my favorite authors! The permanent exhibit featured hundreds of copies of his novels, translated into many languages, including Georgian! There was a lovely account of how after Saramago died, as the airplane carrying his remains took off from the island of Lanzarote, his neighbors read passages of his novels aloud, to bear him away, so to speak. And then when the airplane landed in Portugal, people waved copies of his books to greet it. It was rather moving. We also learned that Saramago’s ashes were buried under the olive tree we’d admired out front before entering the museum.

We then took a break, and I ate my first pastél de nata, bought at a fancy bakery earlier. This pastry is akin to the Chinese egg tart served at dim sum, but it’s thicker and richer. I’d heard of them long ago but never had one, and my first was delicious!

Next we visited the Igreja de Santo António, where mass was being celebrated (in Spanish…?). We went down to the crypt, where a sign indicated that St. Anthony was born HERE. Just up the hill was the Sé de Lisboa, the cathedral. We climbed one of the towers to get to the treasury and found you could walk through a narrow doorway onto the balcony at the back of the sanctuary. It was rather magical when it was just us up there.

In the evening, Meng and I walked around the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto and ate at a restaurant, where we got the bacalhau (salt cod) for two. It was also delicious.

Wednesday

This was the day I presented my poster. After the conference, Meng, Jeremy, and I walked up some very steep streets in what seemed to be a sort of Chinatown. We met up with Adam, Marc, and Jamie, all graduates of our program, and their partners on a bar patio overlooking the Tagus and shared some sangria. Then we went to a restaurant in the Alfama district, where I had rabbit in a plum sauce with couscous.

Thursday

After a day at the conference, I met up with my friend Andrew and two other Berkeley grad students to visit the Castelo de São Jorge. There were splendid views, as well as peacocks, peahens, and their babies. We had fun climbing around the castle walls.

View from near the castle

The castle

We had dinner at a restaurant downhill from the castle, and I had my second salt cod dish, bacalhau à Brás. It’s sort of like fish with egg and hashbrowns, all mixed together. It was tasty and filling. Two of the Berkeley students had bacalhau com natas, which looked a bit like a lake of cream with bits of fish in it (this is how I learned that nata means ‘cream’).

My bacalhau à Brás

After dinner, we kept walking downhill, enjoying Lisbon in the evening light of midsummer.

Azulejos in a little square near the cathedral

View from the square

To be continued!

LSA in Salt Lake City

At the beginning of January, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Salt Lake City. It was my second LSA; my first was Minneapolis in 2014, when I was a first-year grad student. As a fifth-year grad student, I did both more (presented, had more social meals) and less (didn’t volunteer, attended fewer talks, and certainly no sister society talks). The conference was also my second visit to Utah, the first being our road trip last summer.

My plane from Los Angeles flew in past pretty snow-dusted mountains and over a big lake that I thought was the Great Salt Lake. Looking at a map later, I realized it had almost certainly been Utah Lake; the Great Salt Lake would have been much bigger. I took the train from the Salt Lake City airport to downtown. A relative had told me that all Salt Lake City geography was structured around the Temple, and it was true! As I rode east, I saw through the train window the Madina Masjid, next door to the Pentecostals of Salt Lake.

The LSA was being held at the Grand America Hotel; the student rate rooms were across the street in the Little America (appropriate, eh?). I checked into the room I was sharing with my co-presenter and discovered that despite its younger sibling name, the Little America was probably the fanciest hotel I had ever stayed in. I headed over to the Grand America to register, spotted some familiar faces (as linguistics is a small field, the LSA feels like a family reunion), decided not to go to anything that evening, and set out in search of some dinner. I figured if I walked north into downtown I would stumble upon something.

Indeed, after walking for several blocks I noticed a sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising Curry n’ Kabobs, Indian/Afghan cuisine. I glanced through the door the arrow was pointing at and saw a restaurant counter at the back of a convenience store. This sounded perfect. But just ahead was Eborn Books, the used bookstore I’d glimpsed from the train coming in. I decided to check it out before eating.

Visiting local bookstores during conferences is becoming a habit. There was Caveat Emptor in Bloomington, IN, the Strand in New York City… Eborn Books was delightful: a quirky, labyrinthine shop stuffed with books. A sign over one doorway read: “Welcome to What We Call ‘The Ugly Room,'” which included self-help, politics, and religion. A sign pointed in one direction for LDS books while another pointed in the opposite direction for anti-LDS books. In the foreign languages section, I found a French book on given names, quite similar to one I bought at a used book market in Paris years ago, which said, of Eleanor (Éléonore): “Perhaps no other first name fascinates as much…” (clunky translation by me).

I wished I could have lingered longer in Eborn Books, but I had things to prepare that evening, so I left and went next door to order takeout. The man behind the counter was very nice and friendly, and I took an order of Afghan mantu and a mango lassi back to the Little America. They were delicious.

The LSA is an enormous conference (for our field), and I had resolved not to try to do too much. My poster was in the Friday morning session, and I gave a joint talk on Saturday afternoon as big snowflakes fell gently outside. On Saturday evening, we had a Swarthmore linguists dinner at a Nepali restaurant. There were six of us alumni, including my friend Andrew, from the classes of 2007 through 2016, and also a former Swarthmore professor who taught me semantics and typology/conlanging and also helped me navigate getting into grad school. There are a lot of young Swarthmore alumni in linguistics Ph.D. programs across the country; there were more at the LSA who couldn’t make the dinner.

On Sunday, I had lunch with Andrew and then squeezed in a last bit of sightseeing. First, I went to the public library, a five-story building with glass walls on one side that funnily enough hosted a linguistics conference (that I did not attend) a couple of years ago. The rooftop terrace was closed, to my chagrin, since I’d hoped to take pictures of the mountains from there. Still, it was a beautiful, very modern library, and there was a mobile in the atrium that consisted of many small blue book/butterflies suspended from threads that together formed a child’s head (I think). There was also a little boutique that sold vintage Utah postcards, stationery, and literary gifts.

Finally, on my way to the airport, I stopped in Temple Square and walked around. A young woman asked me if I’d like to go into the Tabernacle for the organ concert, but alas, I didn’t have time.

The Assembly Hall

The Mormon Temple

Downtown Salt Lake City had been bright and sunny, but the airport was plunged in thick fog. It created travel problems for other linguists, but I was lucky, and my flight departed. We flew out of the fog very quickly, and below, the mountaintops looked like islands in a milky ocean.

A Night Heron in Central Park

First off, 中秋節快樂! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! I can’t believe I only discovered my (new) favorite Chinese bakery in LA Chinatown in what might be my last year here.

In mid-September, I went to New York City to present at the Annual Meeting on Phonology. Shortly before my trip, I realized it would be my first time on the East Coast since I graduated from Swarthmore, which seemed unbelievable. It was my first time in New York City (not counting layovers) since the fall of 2008. I stayed on the Upper West Side with a family friend, her son, and their two cats. It was a weekend filled with meetings and reunions with linguists and friends from Swarthmore, the intersection of which is not insignificant.

But first, on Friday morning, I met my agent in person for the first time! I figured I should take advantage of being in the capital of the publishing industry. I got to visit Writers House and see where all my e-mails, manuscripts, and envelopes go.

After meeting my agent, I had lunch with my friend Eugenia, who had also studied linguistics (and folk danced!) at Swarthmore. We had taken a translation workshop together, and she’s now a professional freelance translator. We correspond by snail mail and had discovered we’d be in New York City the same weekend (neither of us lives on the East Coast), and luckily our schedules aligned.

I finally made my way to NYU, where my conference was being held. There I found my friend Chris, another Swarthmore linguist (and shape note singer, surprise, surprise), now at Yale, whom I hadn’t seen since I’d graduated. Chris and I had taken Field Methods together. We were both glad to see each other again.

The conference was great. I ran into many graduate students from other schools whom I’d met when we were prospective students together, or when I’d hosted them when they’d visited UCLA, or at past conferences. It’s always nice to see friendly faces and have a chance to catch up in person. I also saw (and sometimes even spoke to!) Famous Linguists (often East Coast ones) I hadn’t met before. There were interesting talks and posters.

On Saturday evening, after the conference reception, I discovered completely serendipitously that my friend Leland, yet another Swarthmore linguist, now at UMass Amherst, was also in New York City. The conference was crawling with his colleagues, but I had had no expectation that he would be attending (and indeed he was in New York for entirely unrelated reasons). We made plans to meet up on Sunday.

I gave my talk on Sunday morning, I think to my largest conference audience ever, and after catching up with another fellow grad student over slices of pizza in Washington Square Park, I headed to the Strand to meet Leland.

I had never been to the Strand before, and I was duly impressed. Leland and I wandered very slowly through the SFF section, half catching up, half discussing books. Then we nipped up to Children’s for a bit before returning downstairs to pick up the books we wanted to buy. I got Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, which I am currently reading and enjoying (lots of worldbuilding to sink my teeth into).

After leaving the Strand, we almost slipped into the Organ Meditation at Grace Church, then changed our minds and just went to get ice cream.

On Monday morning, before I had to head to the airport, I took a walk in Central Park. I chose trails somewhat at random in the Ramble and eventually hit the lake, where I witnessed this charming tableau:

Ducks and turtles living in harmony!

I’d been focused entirely on the reptiles and waterfowl on the submerged rock, but suddenly something in the tree on shore beside me caught my eye. For a moment, I thought a duck was perched in the tree; this struck me as unusual, and I wanted to take a picture. But then I realized it was not a duck but something far more interesting!

The bird’s shape reminded me of a night heron, but its plumage was totally different from that of the black-crowned night herons I’d seen in Minnesota. I didn’t figure it out until I got back to Los Angeles, but I think this is a black-crowned night heron–just a female one! Anyway, I stared at the poor bird for a long time and kept trying, mostly in vain, to take a decent picture of her. I think she was watching me too.

Georgian Food and the Turkish Sparkers

Last weekend I was in Chicago because I was giving a talk at the Chicago Linguistic Society’s conference (I had an awfully good time the last time I went to CLS two years ago). Shortly before I left, my advisor sent me a magazine article about a Georgian restaurant (the only Georgian restaurant?) in Chicago. The conference ended on Saturday, but I didn’t fly out until the following evening, so on Sunday I decided to seek out this restaurant.

Chicago Diplomat Café is a deep, high-ceilinged restaurant with leather-backed armchairs and black tablecloths and an aquarium with goldfish. When I arrived shortly before noon, there was only one other party, a couple, dining. I was seated at a little table not far from them. I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten alone in a sit-down restaurant before, but it wasn’t too awkward. With my suitcase in tow, I fancied I looked like a worldly traveler.

The magazine article had mentioned all sorts of scrumptious dishes, and my one regret in coming alone was that I doubted I’d be able to try more than one dish (no supra for me). There were three kinds of khachapuri, but if I ordered one I didn’t think I’d be able to eat anything else. I decided I wanted the khinkali, Georgian soup dumplings. But when I asked the waiter if I could have them, he said no. I was a bit flummoxed and said something about them not having khinkali today. The waiter didn’t exactly confirm this, but I switched my order to the mtsvadi. I also ordered a Georgian lemonade, pear flavor (the other option was tarragon). If the waiter approved of my Georgian pronunciation, he gave no sign of it.

Georgian lemonade

The Georgian lemonade turned out to be a bottled soda that didn’t taste at all like lemonade. It was a little too sweet for my taste; it gave me the impression of carbonated apple juice (the kind of apple juice preschoolers drink). The mtsvadi was tasty, though it wasn’t quite what I’d expected from the menu. The seasoned chunks of chicken had been cooked on a skewer, and the Georgian fried potatoes were…basically French fries (though quite good ones). The red sauce on the side was sour (in a good way). The menu had called mtsvadi the dish of kings. According to the magazine article, the chicken was marinated in pomegranate juice, and the sauce was tkemali, a sour plum sauce.

Mtsvadi

While I was eating, a larger party with a reservation came in. One young woman was explaining the dishes to her friends, and I later heard her tell the waiter she’d been a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia. She and the waiter discussed the fact that Georgian lemonade is in fact flavored soda, not lemonade (wish I’d heard that sooner). The group discussed ordering khinkali, and I thought to myself that they would be disappointed as I’d been. But then when the Peace Corps volunteer asked for two orders of the dumplings, the waiter accepted the order! There was some brief exchange I didn’t catch (perhaps khinkali take a while to prepare?), but the Peace Corps volunteer said one of her friends had his heart set on khinkali, and it seemed clear they were being allowed to order them. I was miffed. Someday I will eat khinkali!

In other news from roughly the same part of the world…the Turkish edition of Sparkers appears to be coming out tomorrow, June 1st! The Turkish title is Kıvılcımlar, which Google Translate tells me means “sparks,” and it was translated by Canan Vaner. The publisher is Kırmızı Kedi (Red Cat!), and their page for the book is here (it seems to be on lots of Turkish bookselling sites, but I can’t really read any of them, so I’ll just link to the publisher). If you or anyone you know reads Turkish, consider buying the first foreign edition of Sparkers!

Adventures and African Linguistics in Bloomington

For the third year running, I spent the end of my spring break at the Annual Conference on African Linguistics, which was held at Indiana University in Bloomington this year (previously I’d gone to the University of Oregon and Berkeley). Leading up to my trip, I was unknowingly checking the weather for Bloomington, Idaho instead of Bloomington, Indiana, so I was excited to potentially see some snowflakes until I realized my mistake. It did not snow in Indiana (it hailed!), but I did get a dose of proper spring: daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, irises, grape hyacinth, redbud, forsythia, all manner of other flowering trees, and burgundy peony shoots, against a backdrop of mostly leafless trees and mostly gray skies. Plus robins and cardinals!

By now, ACAL feels a bit like a reunion. I gave a talk on tonal alternations in compounds in Efik, a language of southeastern Nigeria I worked on in my second round of Field Methods at UCLA. I also went to several talks that at least touched on Maragoli, my first UCLA Field Methods language and the language I presented on at my last two ACALs. There’s always such an interesting variety of talks at this conference, from “Common Plant Names in South Nilotic Akie” to “Monsters in Dhaasanac and Somali” (where monster is a technical term). There are also always wonderful examples and glosses; for instance, I learned that in Maniŋgaxaŋ (if I got the name of the language right) the compound formed by the words ‘tapeworm’ and ‘person’ means ‘public nuisance.’

I also took the time to explore Bloomington. I didn’t arrive with any expectations, but it turned out to be a lovely college town with nice coffeeshops, interesting cuisine (I had kham amdo thugpa, a Tibetan stew with homemade noodles, and lahmacun at various conference meals), and, best of all, bookstores! On Saturday morning, after the plenary on Luyia tone, I set out on my bookcentric itinerary. I first took a look in the university bookstore. Then I started walking west toward downtown. I stopped at the Monroe County Public Library, which turned out to be having a book sale! There was quite a large selection of former library books. I found some old, probably out-of-print children’s books and some French works, but I didn’t buy anything.

In the middle of downtown Bloomington is a square in the middle of which sits the handsome county courthouse. On the first morning of the conference, when two of my UCLA colleagues and I walked to campus, I’d noticed two bookstores within a few doors of each other on the eastern side of this square and made a mental note to return. After the library book sale, though, I first checked out the farmers market we’d seen from a distance on our way in on Saturday morning.

It was April 1st, and it may have been the first market of the season. I was surprised by the number of produce vendors. There were potatoes, fennel, mustard greens, and other vegetables, as well as eggs, meats, goat cheese, soaps, seedlings, cut flowers, and pussywillow branches! A guitar/fiddle duo was playing old-time tunes at the edge of the market. Their instruments were attached by strings to two free-standing puppets that were also playing the guitar and the fiddle, respectively, so that when the musicians played the puppets played too. In the other section of the market, there were vendors selling beer, kombucha, tacos, pizza, coffee, and pastries. And nearby there was a man with a large red, blue, and green parrot.

I returned to the courthouse square and walked first into Caveat Emptor: Used and Rare Books. It reminded me a little of Alias Books, but it was bigger. Behind the deceptively small storefront was a very deep shop. The lefthand wall was covered in bookshelves from floor to ceiling, with several rolling ladders for reaching the upper shelves. The selection was huge, with sections for everything from botany to women’s studies. I lingered over the Francophone African literature before moving on to the back of the store, where there were half a dozen or more small rooms housing children’s books, poetry, drama, science fiction and fantasy, psychology, foreign languages, and so on.

Caveat Emptor

Making my way back to the front of the shop, I found the music section. There were miniature scores of orchestral and choral works of the kind I used to shelve at the Swarthmore music library. And on the floor there were a few crates of music, which I started to go through with some care. I eventually found David Popper’s “Wie einst in schöner’n Tagen”, a piece I have played and may or may not already have the music to somewhere. This version was printed on two pieces of paper glued in a flimsy brown paper folder. I also found two short collections of cello sonatas, one by Handel and one by Loeillet, who I think must be a French Baroque composer, although I’ve never heard of him. I took all these to the counter and asked how much they were. The bookseller thought the Popper was something I had brought in myself, not something I’d found in his shop. He gave me both sets of sonatas for the price marked in the Handel and the brown paper Popper for free! I must say one thing I like about used bookstores is they tend to have at least some sheet music tucked away somewhere.

I had spent more time at Caveat Emptor than I’d intended, but I still walked down the street to the Book Corner and took a look. I think by then my book browsing hunger was sated, though, and I didn’t stay very long.

Saturday evening was the conference banquet. It’s traditional to have some sort of African food and music at the ACAL banquet, but this year we’d heard there would be neither. Instead, there was soul food. And the music… When I walked in, I saw on the little stage at the far end of the room a man sitting on a chair with a hurdy-gurdy. I almost exploded with happiness. (My love of hurdy-gurdies should by now be well-known.) And then a second musician joined him with…bagpipes! It made my day. Actually, it probably made my conference. One of the conference co-organizers, who I knew from previous ACALs, told me that the piper was a professor in the linguistics department and the hurdy-gurdy player was from another department. They played on and off during the early part of the banquet; the piper played Samhradh, Samhradh, which it took me a few minutes to recognize and which I’d never heard outside this recording. It was lovely. The musicians left relatively early, though, so there was no dancing, as there usually is at ACAL. I for one didn’t mind.

On the last morning of the conference, as I was walking from one session to the next, I caught sight of a little cemetery through the windows of Indiana Memorial Union. The building was something of a labyrinth, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find the cemetery outside, but then I studied the building map and figured it out. So after the conference had ended, I went exploring. I found Beck Chapel and, finding the door unlocked, stepped inside. It was pretty, mostly light wood with a small pipe organ. In the chapel yard, there were three markers commemorating the February 10th, 1942 planting of three trees respectively representing Catholicism, Judaism, and Protestantism. Only the tree representing Judaism remained, however; the other two markers stood at the foot of tree stumps. The cemetery was beside the chapel, but it was surrounded by a low stone wall, and the gate was closed, so I did not try to enter.

AWP in Los Angeles

Last Saturday, I took the bus downtown to go to AWP at the LA Convention Center. AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and it hosts an enormous annual conference. (Last year it was in Minneapolis! I didn’t go.)

I arrived early because a particular 9:00am panel had caught my eye: The Politics of Translation: Aimé Césaire’s The Tragedy of King Christophe. La Tragédie du roi Christophe is a play I read as historical background for a college class on contemporary Haitian novels by women. I remembered almost nothing about it, but it started to come back to me at the panel. I also took literary translation in college, so I was curious to hear about the translation of the play. The panel turned out to be less of a discussion than three distinct presentations, with Aimé Césaire as the only unifying thread. One of the panelists, Paul Breslin, recently translated La tragédie du roi Christophe in collaboration with Rachel Ney, and he talked about how they chose to translate the word nègre (Negro) in different contexts. They also rendered French alexandrins with English heroic couplets (a term I did not know) and French creole with English creole. Anyway, the whole panel made me nostalgic for my days as a student of Francophone literature and made me want to reread Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.

Next I wandered around the bookfair, where small presses, literary journals, and writing programs were tabling. I stopped at the booth for WriteGirl, a Los Angeles creative writing and mentoring organization that connects women writers with teen girls. I actually went back before my last panel of the day to learn more, at which point I was given a copy of an anthology they produced. Here’s hoping I can find some time to volunteer with them before I leave Los Angeles…

At noon, I headed to the We Need Diverse Books panel, entitled Shifting the Narrative Lens. Mike Jung was moderating, and I must say he was an immensely entertaining moderator. I’ve never heard so many hyperbolic descriptions of applause before. The applause was for the panelists: Audrey Coulthurst, Alicia Williams, Brandy Colbert, and Daniel José Older. I didn’t take a lot of notes, but it was a good panel. The panelists may have been preaching to the choir, but they still had thought-provoking things to say. One thing I did write down was Daniel José Older’s call for more white writers to write white characters who confront their own whiteness. White writers worry a lot about writing the Other, but it can be even harder to write the Self.

The next panel was pretty much the whole reason I decided to go to AWP, after thinking for weeks that I wouldn’t. It was Social Justice in Speculative and Fantastical Fiction for Young Readers. I didn’t really realize it till after publication, but that’s basically what Sparkers is. So is Wildings. Anne Ursu, the moderator, joked that the panel was literally the hottest at AWP since the room was packed and it was extremely warm. The panelists were Sherri L. Smith, Daniel José Older, William Alexander, and Tananarive Due, all of whom had great insights. There was a fair amount of discussion of subverting tropes like the Magical Negro or Female Villain = Bad Mother. Older also talked about different cultures’ relationships with the dead, which gave me all sorts of ideas.

At the end of the panel, I went up to introduce myself to Anne Ursu because she blurbed Sparkers. To my astonishment, she recognized me! Even in my new spectacles. So that was delightful.

From the social justice panel, I went to Non-White Authors Also Worry About Getting It Wrong: Diversity in Children’s Literature. (There was definitely a coterie of folks trooping from one diversity-related MG/YA panel to the next.) The panelists here were Rahul Kanakia, Heidi Heilig, and Day Al-Mohamed. Heidi Heilig introduced herself as “half-Chinese, half-white, hapa haole.” She grew up in Hawaii. I’d heard of her debut novel, The Girl from Everywhere, but I didn’t realize the protagonist was also white and Chinese. Another one for the TBR!

The panel was mostly about non-white authors writing the Self, grappling with having to appeal to a white audience and with feeling a responsibility not to perpetuate stereotypes about one’s own people. I was actually more interested in hearing about non-white authors also writing the Other: Is it different for us than for white authors? Perhaps not, since anyone writing the Other has to do their research? Does being marginalized along one axis make one better equipped to write characters marginalized along different axes? There was some discussion of being “given a pass” (e.g. Kanakia wrote an Indian-American girl–will his portrayal of a teenage girl receive less scrutiny because he’s an Indian-American writing an Indian-American protagonist?), but to be clear, most of the panel was not about these questions.

This was the panel where I took the most notes, and I appreciated that the panelists weren’t afraid to voice uncomfortable questions. For instance: the idea that diversity is a trend is anathema to advocates for diversity in kidlit, but even so, some gatekeepers may well conceive of diversity as a trend, and (according to Kanakia) there’s a perception that straight white authors are “cashing in” on diversity. The question is, what if marginalized authors are too? Even if unwillingly? The idea is disquieting. Personally, I wonder if it doesn’t really matter; as long as a story that wasn’t getting told before is now being told, who cares if the gatekeepers picked this story because they thought it was “trendy”? To give another example, when the A Birthday Cake for George Washington incident came up, Kanakia asked his fellow panelists point blank if they would tell their agents to stop shopping subsidiary rights for a work that had been criticized to the extent that they (the author) had come to believe it was genuinely harmful.

There was also discussion of sensitivity readers. A sensitivity reader is someone who reads a manuscript and offers feedback on the portrayal of a character with an identity that the reader shares but the author does not. For instance, I asked two Deaf readers to comment on Caleb’s portrayal in Wildings. The panelists talked about paying sensitivity readers, the possibility of their telling you not to move ahead, and the importance of getting input early so you don’t pour years into a book only to have someone recommend you shelve it.

I think asking sensitivity readers to give you feedback on your manuscript can be delicate. There’s an inherent power imbalance in the relationship between an author and a sensitivity reader, particularly if the author already has a contract for the manuscript in question. Although I did not offer to pay my Deaf readers, I think offering to pay sensitivity readers is actually the right thing to do (in other words, I was wrong). In particular, you shouldn’t put the reader in the position of having to ask to be paid because they probably won’t ask. You the author should offer from the start. Also, you should recognize that your sensitivity reader may not feel comfortable critiquing your portrayal as much as they’d like to. This is probably exacerbated if your sensitivity reader is also your friend. Either way, the reader can’t force you to change your manuscript or halt the publication process. They risk offering you their feedback only to be ignored or even attacked, so in some ways they don’t have much of an incentive to be honest in their critique. That’s why we as authors can’t use the fact that we consulted sensitivity readers as a defense against later criticism of our portrayals.

The last panel I went to was Writing Sex in YA: Choices and Consequences, with Elana Arnold, Corey Ann Haydu, Brandy Colbert, Carrie Mesrobian, and Terra Elan McVoy. The panelists, all of whom write contemporary fiction, talked about realistically portraying teenage sexuality, books they’d recommend, and things they’d like to see more of in YA (e.g. asexuality, boys saying no). They were very funny and entertaining.

All in all, it was a great day, and I’m so glad I got to go. Next up: the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend!

African Linguistics at Berkeley

Like last year, I spent the end of my spring break at the Annual Conference on African Linguistics. This time, instead of camping in Oregon, I stayed with my friend Andrew, a grad student in linguistics at Berkeley, where the conference was held.

IMG_3022

The Campanile

I presented a poster on Maragoli, the language I worked on in Field Methods last year. Famous Linguist #2 (see last year’s post) came to my poster, and we spent some time discussing the data and the way I transcribe the vowels of Maragoli. I discovered I enjoy explaining my research to others much more than I like actually attending poster sessions myself.

Poster 1

Me presenting my poster (Photo by Andrew; Logoori is another name for Maragoli)

I had a good time at the conference in general. It was fun to see many familiar faces and to reconnect with friends in graduate programs across the country. I was particularly looking to attend talks on tone that might help me with my work on Efik, the Nigerian language I worked on in Field Methods this year. My greatest work-related success of the trip might’ve been managing to ambush a Cameroonian visiting scholar late on Friday in order to ask him the questions there hadn’t been time for me to ask during his talk on downstep in Babanki.

On Friday evening, I tarried a while in a Half Price Books and ended up buying three books. Then, walking back to my friend’s house, I discovered bookcases of free books on the sidewalk outside Black Oak Books. The store was closing, sadly. Most of the free books seemed to be cookbooks, and I didn’t take anything.

On Saturday, I went to the morning session of the conference and then took a bus to Oakland Chinatown to meet my friend Miyuki. I loved Oakland Chinatown. Every restaurant seemed to have hanging roast ducks and piles of zongzi in the window. We stopped in one for a lunch of wonton noodle soup, bok choy with oyster sauce, and pork liver steamed rice rolls. Then Miyuki took me to the Oakland Public Library–Asian Branch, which has collections in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and more.

From Oakland, I went on to San Francisco to meet yet another college friend, who had also been at the conference. I celebrated Easter with him before returning to Los Angeles.