International literary conference explores the ‘ecologies of childhood’

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Writers, artists and scholars from around the world will convene at UC Santa Barbara to explore diverse literary perspectives on the harmful environmental threats impacting the planet’s arguably most-precious resource — children.

“Rising generations will be impacted the hardest by climate change,” said Sara Pankenier Weld, a professor of Slavic and comparative literature at UCSB. “But in those same generations is where things can happen and the agents of change will exist.”

The multi-day research conference “Ecologies of Childhood” will explore the overlap of ecology and childhood in language, literature and education. Hosted by UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies in collaboration with the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University, this year’s theme examines environment, ecology, culture and literature in the context of pressing environmental issues.

Taking place for the first time in the United States, the event (Aug. 12–17) marks the 26th biennial congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature. In-person speakers and attendees represent 32 countries on six continents, and an additional 10 countries are represented via the conference’s “green stream” digital access, according to current registration numbers.

While unpacking the connections between children and nature is nothing new, the conference broadens the scope to include children’s literature and culture in relation to ecocriticism, ecofeminism, decolonial environmentalism, posthumanism, environmental justice, activism and education and the increasingly overarching existential threat of climate change.

But with the harsh realizations that often arise with environmental problems also comes an optimism toward revelatory solutions. One of the conference’s main goals is to provide a gathering place where participants can meet, exchange ideas and initiate collaborations. It’s also an opportunity for UCSB to help “spearhead a new wave of scholarship in children’s literature,” Weld said.

Registered participants will have access to a full program of speakers, panel sessions, roundtables, book events, research collections and artist-author plenaries.

Artist-author plenary speakers include: Gene Luen Yang, comic book and graphic novel writer, reading diversity advocate and 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellow; prize-winning poet and picture book author Jorge Argueta, a Pipil Nahua Indian from El Salvador; Maya Gonzalez, an award-winning children’s book artist, author, activist and progressive educator; and Eugene Yelchin, a Newbery award-winning writer and illustrator of books for children and young adults.

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