Literature & Conference brings students together for exploration of literature


Photo credit: Liz Haltrecht

This panel, titled “Laboratories of Power,” focused on dystopias and included Archer students Shira Goldstein ’19 and Anna Brodsky ’20. The panel was moderated by Natalie Grant ’19.

Once a year, Archer’s English department facilitates the Literature & Conference in the library. This conference invites Archer students and students in the greater Los Angeles community to share essays or pieces of artwork that comment on literature with an audience. This year’s conference, which took place on Thursday, March 14, featured presenters from Polytechnic, Crossroads, Loyola, Webb School, Marymount, Flintridge, Granada Hills CHS, Windward, Buckley and Archer.

According to the conference website, the event encourages students to question, connect and engage with literature and “its relevance to the larger world.”

Conference board member and presenter Zoe Applebaum-Schwartz ’19 said that she has wanted to present since middle school. Applebaum-Schwartz did review essays as her role on the board; however, she was not a part of selecting Archer students’ essays because she wanted to submit her own work.

“My primary role was helping choose between submissions from other schools like Polytechnic, Buckley, Loyola and other schools,” Applebaum-Schwartz said. “It was a challenging process because we had so many great submissions, but I think the ones we ended up with are very compelling.”

Isabel Kuh, Student Coordinator, said the leadership team started preparing for the conference back in October. The team began receiving submissions in January and February wrote notes about the strengths and themes of each essay.

“It was really exciting,” Kuh said. “I have always gone to Lit &, so I was excited to finally be leading it and give the speech.”

Conference Board Member Natalie Grant ’19 helped put together panels and read through submissions.

“We were looking to get submissions that were off the beaten path. We were looking for people with really original arguments and new ideas,” Grant said. ” We ended up reading over 100 submissions and picking about 27 of them, so it was a selective process.”

Presenter Shira Goldstein presented about how the film “A Quiet Place” upends the horror genre. Before her presentation, she said that, though she was nervous, her background in theatre prepared her to present to a large group of people.

“I am feeling really excited. It’s one of my favorite things I have ever written and it’s about a topic that I feel really passionate and excited to talk about, but I am also nervous because I have never done anything like it,” Goldstein said. “I definitely know that it is easier for me to be on stage as someone else versus being in front of a bunch of people and having to present your writing to them. It’s very different, but I think that is where I am getting my confidence from — from my background on stage.”

Senior Lola Wolf presented her essay, which she said she was proud of because she worked so hard on it. Wolf’s essay focused on using child psychology to view Goethe’s “Erlkönig.”

“It’s definitely empowering to have this forum through which I can express my ideas,” Wolf said. “I [think] that my essay had some greater applications to life outside of literature, but also I am excited to be on a panel and I think that will be really fun.”

English Department Chair Brian Wogensen said that he has attended the past 13 conferences and thought that this was one of the most memorable because the presentations and panels were fantastic “across the board.”

“I think it really valuable for students in terms of giving them an authentic audience. It is also a huge benefit to get kids from around LA together to interact with each other, to see what [others] are doing,” Wogensen said. “What are they focusing on? How do they interpret literature?  How are they connecting it to their lives?”

Wogensen said that the conference helps teachers as well as students.

“For teachers, this conference has had an impact on the way we think about student assessments and student work, and I know from fellow department chairs that the conference itself has impacted the way other English departments focus their curriculum — to be more dynamic and to have more integrated interdisciplinary work that students are doing with their studies of literature,” Wogensen said.

Wogensen said he thinks that the conference has lots of benefits for all the students who participate because it helps them see the value of writing a good essay while giving other people the opportunity to hear it. According to an email from Wogensen, there were 1,444 views of the talks.

“I think that the opportunity for students to present the work that they have done to an authentic audience and to see that the work that they do is not just something that is handed in for a grade but it has this life and this life goes on [is valuable],” Wogensen said.  “Now, it’s a video archive that people are still accessing every day since the conference.”

Wogensen said that the conference was a great opportunity for students and teachers to come together to share their work.

“I just love that it’s an opportunity to geek out together,” he said. “There should be an unhindered joy that comes with exploring narrative and story and critiquing and questioning and analyzing, and to do that together can be really special.”