BLOG Stanzi Collier-Qureshy

NWR Issue 110

The Association for Welsh Writing in English Conference (I)

On Friday 4 April I was lucky enough to get a taste of the current trends of research ongoing in Welsh literature. The theme this year was broad and wide-reaching: Wales and the World, Re-framing the Literature of Wales in an International Context. As you can imagine, this allowed for a diverse mix of topics, spanning both foreign literature about Wales and Welsh literature from a fresh new perspective.

First of all, the M Wynn Thomas Essay prize for literary essays was awarded, going to David Lloyd for ‘Brenda Chamberlain and American Modernism’ (open category) and NWR contributor Nathan Llewelyn Munday for ‘“Ann heard him speak, and Pantycelyn”: The unexpected relationship between RS Thomas, Williams Pantycelyn and Calvinistic Methodism’ (new scholars category). The weekend continued with the first keynote lecture, given by Professor Daniel Williams on ‘Transnational Pygmalion: Representations of Assimilation’. The lecture opened with a section of WB Yeats’ ‘Easter 1916’, a discussion, according to Williams, between Universalism and Particularism, between ‘the living stream’ and the stone ‘in the midst of it all’, a metaphor for the power of assimilation. Williams’ lecture drew together a range of examples of assimilation, things not often combined or connected, including Peter Shaffer’s play Equus (1973). Again, this literature is used as a model, a small-scale, very individual example of Dysart and the issues of assimilation, a question of what is lost of the particular through the universal. Is it right to take away a man’s worship simply because society deems it perverse, wrong? The issue was then applied to Wales, using the actor Richard Burton as the embodiment. Williams gave a striking example of Burton as a young man standing on a hill and shouting until his throat hurt, until his voice grew hoarse, stopping and then repeating the act. What was this cry of disassociation, this loss of the accent and the voice, the moulding of it into something indeterminate and thus universal? What of Wales has got lost in assimilation?

The next keynote, on the Saturday, took a different vein while continuing to explore what can be assimilated or understood, this time through the obtaining of Welsh literature by other countries. Author Niall Griffiths talked about the translation of literature into another language, giving examples of his own novels. His first and most prominent work, Sheepshagger, has been translated into languages including Croatian, Arabic and Russian, and yet, Griffiths pointed out, not many of those have a clear term for the word ‘sheepshagger’, for the idea and connotations behind it (as it is, at first glance, a specifically Welsh insult). The very title of the work is almost lost. But does this diminish the work or can it allow for something else to be gained, in the literature being claimed for another country? Griffiths, incredibly laid back and humorous, rather took the view that one can learn about our own culture and others by observing this process, by exploring our differences.

Finally, the creative keynote speech that evening was presented by author, academic and NWR contributor and former editor Dr Francesca Rhydderch, on the subject of her Wales Book of the Year winning-novel. The lecture was titled ‘Exile and Repatriation: Notions of Home in The Rice Paper Diaries’. Rhydderch used the process of her research into her own family history and writing the novel to examine what home – and Wales – can mean when all else is lost. Rhydderch went into great depth in a very personal way, telling anecdotes about her family and her intense search to find out what life was really like in a Hong Kong POW camp. There was a very powerful endnote, where Rhydderch detailed why she decided to end her novel with Mari, a child’s voice, showing how sometimes what people tell you is home can feel almost as alien as anywhere else, reminding us again of the issues of assimilation.

Stanzi Collier-Qureshy is a blogger-in-residence for NWR as part of her placement here via Cardiff University. Her blog on the conference concludes this week.


previous blog: Jenny Hall’s Hollow at Aberystwyth Arts Centre
next blog: The Association for Welsh Writing in English Annual Conference II


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