Sigma Tau Delta International Convention Observations (Lindsey Ferguson)

Lindsey Ferguson

            Attending the Sigma Tau Delta Conference in Portland, Oregon was an amazing adventure! Exploring the city of Portland, listening to speakers, and being with fellow English lovers made this experience unforgettable. I was amazed at the number of sessions that we could attend and I wasn’t disappointed by any of them. Portland is an incredible city and offered some great highlights for this trip.

            The first session I attended was called, “Writing Children’s Books,” featuring Rebecca Olien. One of the most interesting facts I learned was that the authors of children’s books often do not have a say in how their stories are illustrated. The choosing of an illustrator is the work of the publisher. Rebecca Olien suggested the five-finger rule when writing stories for children. In other words, a children’s book should contain less than five words a child may not understand. She also suggested authors consider what they enjoyed as a child and why, and to see the world through a child’s eyes. Many of the audience members shared their ideas for a children’s book. There were some great ideas and it was so cool to be in a room full of people who may be (or are) published authors.

            Another great session was “Portlandia Writes.” Portlandia Writes offered the chance to listen to three published authors: Carl Adamshick, Alexis Smith, and Virginia Euwer Wolff. I was surprised when I found out that these authors do not write every day. Most of the time I hear the advice to write every day in order to improve my writing. However, these authors placed more emphasis on reading every day. That I can do! They also suggested becoming a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writing & Illustrating (SCBWI). Each author shared a little about their lives and also read from their works. I was completely enraptured by the excerpt read from Glaciers by Alexis Smith. After the session I was able to purchase my own copy of Glaciers and have it signed by Alexis Smith. So cool!

            The Teaching Secondary English session was the most inspiring of all, since I am aspiring to become a high school English teacher. This session was headed up by Warren Bowe, John Manear, and Nancy Monroe; who are all National English Honor Society (NEHS) Advisory Council Members. The NEHS is basically the high school version of Sigma Tau Delta, which I didn’t know existed until I attended this conference. Beginning a chapter of the NEHS at the high school in which I will be teaching has now become one of my career goals. These teachers gave so many tidbits of knowledge I filled pages of my notebook with notes. They talked about classroom management, teaching works of literature other than those in the canon, creating literature circles, and always being curious. They made the distinction that technology should be used as a tool for learning, rather than used for the sake of using it. They also emphasized the importance of becoming a reflective teacher; always looking to improve your teaching methods; staying up-to-date about changes in education and new additions to the world of literature. Finally, they encouraged all of us to attend conferences, such as this one, as often as we can and I could not agree more. It was invigorating to be around fellow future educators, hear first-hand advice from the speakers, and gain ideas to implement in my future classroom.

            I was also excited to listen to each of the featured speakers. The first, Ursula K. Le Guin, encouraged everyone to explore the different genres and find out what makes them great; that genre is not a value judgment on a piece of literature. Next, Timothy Egan is most known for his work The Worst Hard Time, a collection of stories from the Dust Bowl. Research for this book even prompted him to explore the histories of families from Nebraska. Timothy Egan said he loved diving into shoebox treasure chests full of pictures, family diaries, letters, and other precious scraps of memory. He touted that writing is a way in which we are able to bring order to the chaos of life. The final featured speaker, Anne Fadiman, had the audience roaring with laughter as she made distinctions between courtly book lovers and carnal book lovers. Courtly book lovers seek out first editions, treat books with the utmost respect, and protect their books with their lives. Carnal book lovers dog-ear pages, write in the margins, use the most interesting book marks, and are not afraid to read their books while soaking in a bubble bath. She exuded a passion for books that was contagious. Each speaker was wonderful, but Anne Fadiman was by far my favorite.

            The most wild event of the conference was, without a doubt, the Dry T-Shirt/Bad Poetry Contest. It took a little while to get comfortable booing the performers in replacement of applause, but some of the poetry was so truly and wonderfully bad that you couldn’t help shouting out, “Get off the stage!” to your favorite performers. The catch phrase for the conference became, “Rage! Rage against the man!” – inspired by one of my favorite bad poems.

            The frosting on the cake of this experience was going to Powell’s Bookstore. They really aren’t kidding when they call it a “World of Books.” I could have lost myself in the rows upon rows of books for hours. They had every possible topic/genre imaginable. Needless to say my suitcase was a bit heavier on the return trip as a result of buying a stack of books!

            Attending the Sigma Tau Delta Conference was an extraordinary experience and one that I would do again in a heartbeat. Exploring Portland was an incredible adventure and the sessions exhilarating. I am proud to be an English nerd!

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