The Association for Welsh Writing in English conference, Gregynog, 12-14 May 2017

by Llion Wigley, Commissioning Editor for Welsh Language and Topics

The Association of Welsh Writing in English annual conference is always a highlight of the academic calendar in Wales, more so than ever this year as the theme was multi-disciplinarity. This opened up what is already a broad-ranging and eclectic conference to participants from academic disciplines beyond the study of literature. Saturday’s keynote lecture, for example, was delivered by an increasingly in demand academic, Professor Roger Scully, from the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. He talked about his research on elections in Wales – a very topical subject at present – the results of which will be published in a book by UWP. This gave the audience a fascinating glimpse of the kind of voting patterns which are likely to emerge in Wales in June. Other papers from across the disciplines touched on documentary filmmaking, theatre studies, Welsh history, gender and trans-nationalism. The well-known children’s author, Elen Caldecott, discussed the latter in her very interesting paper on writing a novel for adults as her PhD (supervised jointly by Aberystwyth and Bath Spa universities) using a trans-national approach.

Jamie Harris, who has recently gained his PhD from Aberystwyth University, showcased his new research on Welsh utopias: an exciting and stimulating subject which raises a number of important political and cultural questions. Michelle Deininger and Claire Flay-Petty from Cardiff University combined to give a brilliant paper on their important research into women’s collaborative networks in and around Cardiff during the inter-war period, highlighting the work of forgotten or neglected authors such as Kathleen Freeman. Elinor Shepley discussed the work of the famous experimental novelist B. S. Johnson – who was a writer in residence at the conference venue in Gregynog during the late 1960s – in a very original and thought provoking paper on representations of old age in Welsh literature, which also made use of the short stories of Kate Roberts. David Barnes gave a very well received paper on his work as a practitioner of photo-documentary in South Wales, specifically his study of the ‘Loyal Order of the Moose’ in the context of Raymond Williams’s work. Nathan Munday gave a brilliant and highly learned theological analysis of Glyn Jones’s poetry, and Liza Penn-Thomas uncovered the early theatrical works from the 1930s of the novelist Jack Jones.

The only difficulty at the AWWE conference is knowing which sessions to choose, as there were three parallel sessions held this year for the first time! This meant I had to miss fascinating papers by Siriol McAvoy, Rita Singer, Andy Webb, Daniel Gerke and others on subjects ranging from Jean Paul Sartre and the national question to materiality in Welsh modernism in the 1940s. The range of papers at the conference is a testament to the vibrancy and good health of academic research in Wales. The high level of sales at the conference bookshop – smoothly run this year by Clare Davies from Swansea University – was a further testament to this. Bethan Jenkins gave a very witty speech during the launch of her own book, Between Wales and England: Anglophone Welsh Writing of the Eighteenth Century (published by UWP), on Saturday night, and all the copies on hand were sold. Add in the usual exciting and unpredictable food at Gregynog, the lively discussions continuing at the bar at the end of each day’s papers, and the beautiful surroundings in May, and it was another successful year for one of the best academic conferences in Wales!