A Letter from Our President and Executive Director on the 2021 Conference
Dear Fitzgerald friends,
Even under the best conditions, planning a conference is a massive undertaking. In fact, it can be quite scary. It requires skills that many of us who’ve dedicated our lives to the classroom never expected to practice: negotiating with venues, haggling with bus companies, contracting caterers, putting thousands of dollars on our personal credit cards to reserve hotel rooms we hope our colleagues will turn out to book, and even learning how to run technology.
Since Ruth Prigozy, Alan Margolies, and Jackson Bryer founded the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society in 1991, planning our biennial conferences has always been challenging. We can say with pride, however, that we’ve never had a failure or even a setback we didn’t overcome. That’s in part because we’ve developed a great network of eager and enthusiastic scholars around the world who have rolled up their sleeves and taken on the hard work of making our events happen. Our success has also been because of our commitment to our financial frugality, to our pragmatic eye for detail, and above all us, to our concern for the personal safety of our conferees.
When the new board of the Fitzgerald Society met in Zoom on June 24, we asked ourselves a simple question: how confident did we feel embarking on conference planning for 2021 amid a global pandemic? Many of our members fall into “at risk” categories; a number of our regular attendees are also facing professional uncertainties amid the highest unemployment numbers since Fitzgerald was writing stories about the Great Depression like “A Change of Class” in 1931. Since the Paris/Toulouse conference wrapped up, we had been exploring two possibilities for next summer: we were working with Philip Sipiora of the University of South Florida on a potential week at the Don Cesar in St. Petersburg where Scott and Zelda stayed in the early 1930s, and with Laura Pedersen on a possible gathering in Buffalo, New York, where, of course, Fitzgerald spent much of his early childhood (although we tend to forget that).
Our Zoom conversation no sooner began, however, than the board’s reservations became immediately clear. With all the upheaval and uncertainty that we face at the present time, and with no proof that a Covid-19 vaccine will be available in the next twelve months, we have decided that our 16th international conference is best held online.
We hope you don’t look at this as a disappointment. In fact, the more the board discussed the possibilities of what we might be capable of next year, the more excited we all grew. Philip McGowan suggested we call the event “Fitzgerald Summer School”: a week of free, online, interactive programming committed to expanding our understanding of the writer’s contribution to global literature. We see an incredible opportunity to expand our outreach, introduce the world to some new and exciting voices, and to push the envelope of scholarship. We envision a program that reinvents Fitzgerald for the 21st century, establishing the critical agenda for the next decade or so.
In other words, not just another Zoom meeting! And not another seminar paper on the meaning of that green light at the end of the dock!
As you can tell, we are only in the preliminary planning stages. We would love for any Society members who’re interested in helping chart the week to contact our executive director, Kirk Curnutt, at firstname.lastname@example.org, to share their ideas.
As for post-pandemic plans, you’ll be happy to know we are already exploring possibilities for 2023 and 2025. (Since 2025 will mark the 100th anniversary of The Great Gatsby, you may have a few guesses about what location we’re eyeing—but we don’t think you’ll ever guess where we’re investigating for 2023). And it may well be, should Covid-19 go the way of the 1918 influenza outbreak before Christmas, we look at an event sometime in 2022. At the moment, we just know it’s safest if we plan to meet online next year.
On behalf of the leadership of the Fitzgerald Society, we hope everyone has survived the past six months as well as can be expected. It is indeed a strange new world, but the reassuring thing is we still have at least four novels, 180 or so short stories, a couple dozen essays, and various film, TV, and stage adaptations awaiting for our rereading. We have changed since 2020 began, but they have not. And they’re not going anywhere.
We look forward to exploring every single one of those works with you over the next year. Fitzgerald’s writing has been our personal lifeline since mid-March; we know it’s been yours, too.
Please be safe.
Jackson R. Bryer, President
Kirk Curnutt, Executive Director