by Felicia Jean Steele
2016 Convention Chair
In a fashion appropriate to Sigma Tau Delta, I want to tell you a story about our 2016 Convention theme, “Finding Home.” Diane Vanner Steinberg and I committed to organizing the 2016 Convention in Savannah, Georgia, during the 2014 “Sponsors and Alumni Reception.” Excited by our task and elated by a series of conversations with Faculty Sponsors from other institutions, we went out to dinner and our 2016 Convention theme hit me: we came back to the convention every year with such anticipation because we’d “Found Home” in Sigma Tau Delta.
And we knew that our students felt the same way. Each year since 2005, our students have attended the convention, broadened their horizons beyond the east coast, and come to recognize home not in a place, but in an idiom. In the language of literary theory, they’ve found their home in a “discourse” about books, about writing, about teaching. They realize that they share this discourse and sense of “homecoming” with other English majors, minors, and “fellow travelers” from Hong Kong to Kuwait and Canada to The Bahamas. Every year, they’ve brought that bit of “home” back to their campus with them, encouraging one another to return to the next year’s convention, to apply for internships, to join the alumni chapter when they graduate, and to charter chapters of the National English Honor Society when they start teaching in high schools. They carry their Sigma Tau Delta home around with them, perhaps not like turtles, unless turtle shells come with bookshelves.
Minneapolis itself also conjured up images of “finding home” for me, and I hoped to honor that image of Minnesota as a home when organizing the convention. Like many other members of Sigma Tau Delta, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, so I relied on guidance from mentors who may or may not have understood my own family narrative, which is full of dislocations, migrations, and attempts to build a home. The closest thing to a legendary “family home” that any of my family has ever felt has been the Twin Cities—Minneapolis/St. Paul—where my widowed great-grandmother migrated, with two small children, and made a living as a laundress. Minnesota has a history of opening its arms to strangers from even greater distances than my family: from Scandinavia, from Germany, from Burma, from Somalia. One of our keynote speakers, Kao Kalia Yang, speaks to that experience of migration in her memoir The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. We should also remember, as we recall the Albuquerque Convention and Simon Ortiz’s wise words to us, that Minnesota is home to some of North America’s First Peoples—the Chippewa, Ojibwe, and Sioux. The action of “Finding Home” has sometimes displaced others.
In our theme, “Finding Home,” we challenge you to contemplate how writers find their home—in their own voice—or how students find their home in the classroom or in literature. And most importantly, we ask you to celebrate the ways in which Sigma Tau Delta has become an intellectual home for you as people committed to writing, reading, and community.
Plan now to join 1,100 Sigma Tau Deltans at our 2016 International Convention, March 3-5 in Minneapolis, MN. Over $10,000 will be awarded for student works presented at the convention.