Open Books-Open Minds Student Conference Focuses on Themes in Mat Johnson’s “PYM”

The RIC Open Books-Open Minds common book program will host “Imagination and Exploration,” its third annual spring student conference on Friday, April 11, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom.

The conference, featuring the critical and creative work of students from Rhode Island College and from the University of Connecticut, focuses on themes and issues inspired by the 2013-14 common book choice, Mat Johnson’s “PYM.” Presenters, who range from freshmen to graduate students, will explore Johnson’s novel in relation to race, identity, exploration, art, inter-textuality, difference, apocalypse and monsters, as well as numerous presentations not directly related to “PYM.”

The conference keynote speaker, Pamela Bedore, assistant professor of English and director of writing at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point, will speak from 12:45-1:45 p.m. on “Monstrous Genres: Hip-Hop Theory, Zombies, and Apocalypse in Mat Johnson’s ‘PYM.’”

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo will deliver welcoming remarks just prior to the keynote address. RIC Vice President of Academic Affairs Ron Pitt will give opening remarks at 8:15 a.m. 

A poster and multimedia exhibit includes First-Year Seminar projects such as:

· A class presentation on the Superman Building by students of Professor of History Quenby Hughes;

· Elementary Education Professor Corinne McKamey’s photo installation, “What Does RIC Mean to Me?”

· Illustrations from Gabriel Morrison’s honors art project, “The Empty Gallery”; and

· “Psychological First-Aid for First Responders,” and installation by M.S.W. student Christine Chase.

Topics of panel and roundtable sessions include:

· “War Talk,” a panel from Audrey Olmsted’s FYS class;

· “Deconstructing ‘Crash’: The Implications of Race, Class, and Gender in a Hollywood Blockbuster,” a panel from Tanni Chaudhuri’s “Society and Social Behavior” class; and

· “From Here to the Apocalypse: Adventures in the World of ‘PYM,’” a roundtable from Bill Pett’s first-year writing class.

Individual paper topics range from freshman Michael Kimbrough, Jr.’s “The Development of America in PYM’ and ‘The Truman Show’” to honors student Travis Dumais’s presentation on evolutionary psychology, and papers on “The Visions of Poe, Lovecraft, and Johnson” and “The Wilderness of the Body” by English M.A. students Caitlin Howle and Andrew Gorman, respectively.

As the OBOM book choice, Mat Johnson’s “PYM” served as the subject for a year’s worth of programming that included a summer reading group, a marathon reading of the entire novel, a visit from the author in October, lectures on 19th-century American landscape art and narratives of exploration that put fiction and reality into complicated dialogue.

OBOM co-chair Zubeda Jalalzai called the student conference the highlight of the OBOM year. “It’s really at the conference that we see the exciting results of our intensive, year-long focus on the common book,” she said. “This year, we’re happy, too, to include student work on any issue related to imagination and exploration.”

In this spirit of inclusivity and inter-disciplinarity, English Department Chair Daniel Scott perceives the student conference as “an opportunity for poets and performers to interface with academics.” One of his students, Barbara Fleury, will join poets Cameron Osteen and Charmaine Porter for a reading of original work in a session chaired by Professor of Creative Writing Robert Foreman. Scott will host a panel on the concept of “signifying,” inspired by the scholarship of Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The conference is free and open to the public. To register, visit the Open Books-Open Minds website at