So, after four sessions plus a business meeting here in Kalamazoo, I'm at the airport and ready to go home. This has probably been one of the most -- if not the most -- productive conference I've ever attended, and that includes meeting Stephen R. Donaldson during ICFA a few months ago. As I sit here, I've been ruminating about the biggest takeway. Even more than hearing many great papers, I suppose, was the chance to meet Tolkienists in person -- but even that deserves some expansion, I feel.
It's one thing of meeting Tolkienists whose work I've long admired*** . . . but also another thing to meet Tolkienists whose names I recognized but whose work was only vaguely known to me. Tolkien Studies is such an incredibly large field, with several new books and essay collections being published each year, that as a poor hapless grad student struggling to finish his dissertation, sometimes you just have to ignore, or merely skim, some of the newest stuff. It's a sanity-saving device -- you can't keep absolutely as up to date as you'd like when you're writing, so you tend to gloss over those scholars only tangentially related to your own interests. But Kalamazoo has helped me put faces to some of those names, and that'll help to raise my awareness of their work. It's one thing to know that a book has recently been published on Topic X -- another thing to recognize how the immense amount of work-hours being put into these projects but other people. And now if I see an article by John or Jane Doe, it'll make a greater impression now than it did before.
*** and having dinner with them!