Dear members of Women in French,
As I reflect on my years as president of Women in French in preparation for this letter, I decided to reread a talk I gave at the WIF reception at the RMMLA conference in the fall of 2015, just before being elected president. The message of the talk, which was called “Women in French: Dharma, Sangha and Karma”, seems even more true to me now. As some of you know, I am a yoga instructor as well as a French professor. In this talk, I explored the history and mission of Women in French in relation to three yogic concepts: dharma, which can be translated variously as duty, calling, or mission; sangha or community; and karma or selfless service. I discussed how the mission of Women in French had evolved from its origins to the present day and suggested that our mission statement does not adequately reflect our identity as an organization. According to our by-laws “Women in French is an organization organized exclusively for educational purposes […]. Women in French is a voluntary organization of individuals who wish to promote research on women writing in French, on women in literature and culture of French expression, and other domains of feminist literary criticism. An additional purpose of the organization is to share information and concerns about the status of women in higher education in the United States and Canada.” While this statement is accurate, I believe that it does not sufficiently express the importance of either sangha or karma in our organization. These are the aspects of Women in French that have made my tenure as president such an enriching and fulfilling experience.
For me, Women in French is above all a community. While I don’t think scholars working on women authors or women’s issues feel as isolated as they did when Women in French was founded, I do feel though that it is essential in any field to have a strong, supportive community of like-minded individuals, and in a period when foreign language departments are often surviving with fewer faculty, it is essential for those of us in tiny departments to have a community of French scholars at all. But “supportive” is perhaps the key word here that distinguishes WIF from many other professional organizations. At conferences, members of Women in French make an effort to attend each other’s sessions. They give positive, constructive feedback, and generally ask questions that help their colleagues grow as scholars rather than the aggressive questions or self-aggrandizing comments one hears in other contexts. WIF sessions and conferences are a safe and comfortable environment for emerging scholars and for more established researchers who want to try out new ideas. We feel comfortable asking our WIF colleagues to give us feedback on articles, to review manuscripts, or to write letters of recommendation.
Yet, Women in French would not exist if it were not for selfless service. From my position as president, I have had the rare and gratifying opportunity of overseeing the innumerable people who serve our organization in so many different ways, from those who serve in an official capacity—officers, committee members, regional representatives, editors of WIF Studies and the WIF Newsletter, etc.—to those who mentor emerging scholars or conduct mock interviews with graduate students, those who volunteer to help organize conferences, who review articles for WIF Studies, who contribute annotated bibliographies of teaching dossiers for the WIF Newsletter, who present papers at our conferences or submit articles to our journal, who post on our Facebook page, or participate in the graduate student and early career scholars’ writing exchange. There are so many ways of participating in Women in French. One of the most fulfilling ways to participate for me over the years has been to attend the Women in French conference. Next year, we will be having our 10th International Women in French conference at Iowa State University, May 14-16 2020, organized by Michèle Schaal with the help of Arline Cravens and Susan Ireland. The theme of the conference is “Margins: Voices and Pathways”. Confirmed plenary speakers include Anne Donadey (San Diego State University) and writer Claire Legendre (Université de Montréal), whose novel L’Écorchée vive (2009) has been chosen for the One Book, One WIF initiative. There will also be a screening of Claire Legendre’s film Bermudes (Nord) and a reception at the ISU Museums with a tour of the exhibit co-curated by Michèle Schaal: “World Languages and Cultures (WLC) at The Museums.” I look forward to seeing you all there!
Our new website should be up and running soon thanks to the efforts of Michèle Schaal, Leah Holz, Stephanie Schechner, and Raquelle Bostow. The new site will be user-friendly, more functional and attractive, and easier for membership maintenance. If you have photos from WIF events, please send them to Raquelle, our current Website and Social Media Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org). [Editor’s Note: The new website is officially up and running!]
In the meantime, please don’t forget to vote in our December election. As in previous years, you will receive an email link from votingplace.net. All members will be voting for a new President and Vice-President; there will also be elections for Regional Representatives for the Midwest and Rock Mountain regions (see the candidates’ bios on p. 4 of this Newsletter). Many thanks to Susan www.womeninfrench.org WIF 33.2 FALL 2019 3 Ireland, Patrice Proulx (co-VPs), and to Arline Cravens, Mercédès Baillageon, and Névine El Nossary (Regional Representatives) for your service to Women in French. I am pleased to announce that Noëlle Brown starts as our new Treasurer come January 2020. Thank you, Liz Hall, for your service in that role!
Two other people who deserve recognition for their service to Women in French are Annabelle Rea and Colette Trout. Annabelle and Colette have both served our organization in many capacities, including as president: Anabelle from 1990 to 1995 and Colette from 1995 to 1999. They currently serve on the Nominating Committee which has the never-ending task of encouraging members to run for office. Annabelle and Colette work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that our positions are always filled so that the organization can run smoothly year after year. Their job involves the art of gentle persuasion and subtle diplomacy, as well as a perceptive sense of the team as a whole and of the strengths of the individual players. In addition to ensuring our current positions are filled, they must always keep an eye out for emerging scholars who will make sure Women in French thrives well into the future. If you are interested in getting involved now or in the future, please make sure you let them know.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Juliette Rogers for her invaluable service to Women in French. Juliette organized the 3rd International Women in French Conference at the University of New Hampshire in 2006, served as Vice-President of Women in French from 2003 to 2007 and president from 2007 to 2011, and is now finishing a five-year term as Editor in Chief of WIF Studies, all the while pursuing an impressive research agenda focusing primarily on women writers of the Belle Epoque (1880-1914) and the literature of francophone Quebec. With her passion and dedication to the field, her professionalism and impressive organizational skills, as well as her sense of humor, compassion, and generosity, Juliette exemplifies the karma and dharma of Women in French. We are so fortunate to have her in our sangha!
I wish you all a productive and enriching fall.
Newsletter Volume 33, Number 2