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May 12, 2003


Interest In Woolf Is Running High, Organizers Say, Not Only Among Scholars,
But Also Among Newly-Engaged Fans And Readers

Editor's note: Digital images of Virginia Woolf are available. Contact Marti Hobbes to obtain [, (413) 585-2190].

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Smith College, home to one of the premier collections of letters and manuscripts of Virginia Woolf, will welcome some 350 of the world's leading Woolf scholars and devotees June 5 ­ 8 when it hosts the 13th annual conference on Virginia Woolf in cooperation with the International Virginia Woolf Society.

The participants -- including critics, teachers, readers, scholars and the leading biographers of Woolf and her Bloomsbury contemporaries -- will focus their attention on the real-world dimensions of Woolf's life. Through papers, plenary sessions, exhibitions, panel discussions and films, participants will explore broad topics, such as women's education, pacifism, family life and social class, through the lens of Woolf's career as a writer, journalist, teacher and feminist.

"This is truly a peak moment for Woolf scholarship," observes conference co-organizer Karen Kukil, associate curator of rare books at Smith, "but also for general, public curiosity about the life and works of Virginia Woolf."

Thanks in part to the critically acclaimed film "The Hours," an adaptation of Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," interest has grown significantly in Woolf and the artists and writers of her time, notes Kukil's co-organizer Stephanie Schoen, associate director of donor relations at Smith. Schoen points out that more than 160 papers will be presented over the course of three days, interspersed with seven plenary sessions, eight exhibitions, four film screenings and two live performances.

"It will be possible to be immersed in matters of Virgina Woolf every moment of every day," she laughs.

Because of the wide interest in Woolf in the Smith community and in the Valley, organizers have declared all plenary sessions, exhibitions, performances and films free and open to the public. A complete schedule of events is available at

The conference opens officially at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 5, with a plenary session in Wright Hall Auditorium. Smith College President Carol T. Christ, a scholar of English literature, will discuss "Virginia Woolf and Education." Smith President Emerita Jill Ker Conway, a celebrated memoirist and expert on the writing of women's lives, will also speak.

Steven Daldry's award-winning film "The Hours" will be screened at 8:30 p.m. that evening in Wright Hall Auditorium, preceded by a special preview of film commentary by Daldry and novelist Michael Cunningham that will be included in the forthcoming DVD version of the film. Conference organizers note that the number of free, public seats for this screening will be limited to ensure access for registered conference participants.

Highlights of Friday, June 6, include an interview with celebrated feminist literary scholar Carolyn Heilbrun, founding president of the Society and author of a number of landmark volumes in feminist scholarship, including "Toward a Recognition of Androgyny" and "Reinventing Womanhood." Heilbrun will be interviewed by Smith College Provost and Dean of Faculty Susan Bourque at 4 p.m. in Wright Hall Auditorium. As with the plenary sessions, the public is welcome.

Friday's plenary session will take place at 6:30 p.m. in Wright Hall Auditorium, Gretchen Gerzina -- professor of English at Vassar College and the author of "Black London: Life Before Emancipation" and "Carrington: A Life," a biography of Bloomsbury figure Dora Carrington -- will discuss "Bloomsbury and Race." Noted art historian, critic and biographer Frances Spalding, author of biographies of several members of Woolf's circle, will present "When are Words Not Enough? Roger Fry and Virginia Woolf."

Saturday opens with a plenary session at 9 a.m. in Wright Hall Auditorium featuring a presentation by Lyndall Gordon, author of "Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life." Gordon's talk is titled "This Loose, Drifting Material of Life: Virginia Woolf and Biography."

A second Saturday plenary session at 5:30 p.m. in Sage Hall will feature celebrated Woolf biographer Hermione Lee, professor of English literature at Oxford University, discussing "Undiscovered Countries: Woolf, Illness and Reading." Lee will focus on Woolf's 1930 essay "On Being Ill," a volume recently republished by Paris Press of Ashfield, Mass., for which Lee wrote the introduction. One of the original 250 hand-printed copies of the essay, published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf's Hogarth Press, is in the collection of Smith's Mortimer Rare Book Room and will be among the items exhibited during the conference.

A highlight of Sunday's program will be the world premiere of "Lytton and Virginia," a three-person staged reading, based on the Smith-owned correspondence between Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, directed by Ellen Kaplan, associate professor of theatre at Smith. The performance will take place at 1:30 p.m. in Neilson Library Browsing Room.

Another performance of interest takes place prior to the conference's official opening. Titled "A Room of One's Own with Clare Dalton," it is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Thursday in Wright Hall Auditorium. Dalton, a professor of law at Northeastern University and executive director of Northeastern's Domestic Violence Institute, began her theater career as an undergraduate at Oxford University. Recently, she has performed several times with her husband, Robert Reich, in productions of "Love Letters."

Throughout the conference, exhibits across the Smith campus will offer expanded views of Woolf and her influence on modern literature and issues affecting women. The exhibits are "Woolf in the World: A Pen and a Press of Her Own" (Neilson Library, third floor); "'The Politics of Mind': Writing on Woolf, Teaching Woolf" (Neilson Library, Sophia Smith Collection, Alumnae Gymnasium); "'Her Novels Make Mine Possible': Virginia Woolf's Influence on Sylvia Plath" (Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson Library); "A Story of Their Own: Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Gloria Steinem" (Neilson Library, Morgan Gallery, first floor); Virginia Woolf: A Botanical Perspective" (Lyman Conservatory); "Vanessa Bell and Bloomsbury" (Smith College Museum of Art); and "Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury" (Hillyer Art Library). An associated exhibit of the work of conference artist-in-residence Suzanne Bellamy, an Australian artist inspired by Woolf, will take place at the Northampton Center for the Arts.

The International Virginia Woolf Society, a 600-member allied organization of the Modern Languages Association, is devoted to encouraging and facilitating the scholarly study of, critical attention to, and general interest in the work and career of Virginia Woolf and to facilitating ways in which all people interested in her writings can share information.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the country.

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