Notes on “Notes from Underground”: ASLE Biennial Conference in Moscow, Idaho

by Cate Sandilands, York University, ASLE Vice President and 2015 Conference Chair

In a bit less than eight months’ time, ASLE members will be assembling at the University of Idaho in Moscow for the start of our eleventh biennial conference, “Notes from Underground: The Depths of Environmental Arts, Culture and Justice” (June 23 – 27, 2015). The call for papers has circulated widely, and many interesting calls for “underground” themed panels have also been posted on the ASLE listserv, web site and elsewhere: from trenches and sewers to oil and diamonds to beat poets and indigenous art, we invite you to explore the depths of environmental arts, culture and justice with us. We are very excited that the conference theme has sparked such an imaginative range of ideas for exploration and discussion, and look forward to receiving your proposals for panels, performances, and presentations by the deadline of December 7, 2014. As you craft your proposals, please note that we are strongly encouraging non-traditional forms of presentation at ASLE 2015 in order to encourage the kinds of engaged discussion that can only occur at in-person gatherings; attending to the material conditions (underground and otherwise) of the conference itself means making the best possible use of the resources enabling our participation. Please see the conference website for the call for papers, for submission details, and also for a full description of the conference theme and location, including details about travel, accommodation, funding, and awards.

Please also note our new conference access guidelines. As part of our commitment to a tripartite mandate of ecological, economic, and social justice, ASLE is pleased to be able to support, with the University of Idaho, full mobility accessibility throughout the conference (including some field trips), ASL interpretation at all plenary events, accessible single-stall (including gender neutral) restrooms, aids to assist with visual impairments at plenary and concurrent sessions, as well as other accommodations. Our thanks especially to Sarah Wald, ASLE Diversity Officer, for her work to develop the ASLE guidelines, and to Gloria Jensen and the Disability Support Services Staff at U of I for their creativity in helping us implement them.

Palouse geometry 1Although a fake events web site advertising the ASLE conference recently circulated around the internet locating our conference in Moscow, Russia (we take this imitation as a weird form of flattery), we are delighted that we will be converging on a different Moscow! ASLE’s Moscow (pronounced MosCO) is situated in north central Idaho in the stunning Palouse region of fertile hills, grasslands, and rivers, a place made remarkable both by the land itself and by the complex histories and stories that wind through it. With outstanding birding, hiking, cycling and other recreational activities nearby, in addition to a rich independent cultural scene and the promise of some excellent local and regional food and wine in a compact and accessible small city, Moscow is a superlative conference destination. Our excellent local organizers at the University of Idaho–Anna Banks, Erin James, Jennifer Ladino and Scott Slovic–are busily organizing a roster of field trips that will help us learn about the region on a variety of scales, at a variety of paces, and through a variety of lenses; these trips will include a guided tour of the 100 year old, 63 acre University of Idaho arboretum; cycling, running, and hiking in the local hills; and a bus trip highlighting sites of Nez Perce cultural and political importance. In addition, we are very pleased to participate in the Moscow tradition of Progressive Evenings: on Thursday evening, conference participants and local residents will mingle in and move through a series of downtown venues for short films, performances, installations and discussions that will include both ASLE and Palouse artists and writers.

We are also delighted to welcome to ASLE a stellar lineup of keynote speakers and panelists, addressing a range of underground topics, and from both the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. Inaugurating our event will be Stephanie LeMenager, Barbara and Carlisle Moore Professor of English at the University of Oregon and author of the brilliant Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century. On Wednesday, we will have the great pleasure to listen to internationally recognized and multiply awarded poet, novelist and essayist Linda Hogan, former Writer in Residence for the Chickasaw Nation and Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado. On Thursday we have a pair of very exciting discussions. In the morning, “Life Underground” will feature University of California, Santa Cruz feminist luminaries Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing discussing (among other things) fungi, lichens, and global underground networks of multispecies dissent and connection; in the afternoon, “Extractive and Underground Poetics” will include multi-talented poet-activist-scholars Ann Fisher-Wirth (University of Mississippi), Tanure Ojaide (University of North Carolina, Charlotte), and Rita Wong (Emily Carr University of Art and Design), who will both read from their work and discuss the role of poets and poetry in responding to extractivist cultures and politics. Friday night will see a Gathering of Palouse Writers from the University of Idaho and the region to celebrate and probe the ecologies and relations of the inland Northwest and also bring to light some of the deeply local manifestations of global undergrounds, insurgencies, and literatures. And Saturday afternoon, immediately before our closing banquet, Jorge Navarro from Huerto de La Familia will speak from his expertise in the politics of cultivation, thinking about the soil as a medium for growing food security, social equity, and community memory for Latino communities in the area of Eugene, Oregon and beyond.

Of course, we will have a full program of concurrent sessions–panels, roundtables, jam sessions–in addition to pre-conference seminars and workshops organized by Janet Fiskio (stay tuned for the full listing and pre-registration details). New to ASLE 2015 will be a limited number of mid-conference workshops and seminars; along with a half-day program of documentary films related to the conference theme, these sessions will occur during our Friday afternoon field session slot for those who prefer to stay closer to campus. And there will still be ample space for socializing at several sponsored receptions, including the popular Authors’ Reception, where ASLE authors will be able to showcase their new books.

We look forward to seeing you in Moscow in June!