Professors, grad students, academics, and well-read citizens jammed into as many sessions as they could.

After a weekend at the MLA Convention, surrounded by both geeks and nerds, I confirmed that it’s the Comic-Con of academia—except with tweed blazers in place of latex costumes. That aside, the convention has nothing to do with the semicolon-obsessed MLA you might remember. Instead, it’s a weekend surging with intelligent, insightful conversations on culture, trends, the evolution of art, language, and the written word. Here’s what you missed:

How Seattle Changed Comics with Susan E. Kirtley, JoAnne Ruvoli, and Christopher Pizzino
•Pizzino discussed how former Seattleite Charles Burns used comics to convey trauma. Whether it’s the marriage of text and images or those little word bubbles in the creator’s handwriting, we empathize with put-upon comics characters, and Burns tapped into that.
•Kirtley focused on Lynda Barry, whose female characters often struggle through day-to-day life in Seattle. Class differences, concerns about race, and gender all play a part in her pages. And because Seattle was such a major character, her personal recollections made both comics and our city more accessible.

The Seattle Sound: A Look at Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, Hendrix, and More with Lindsay E. Waters, John Melillo, and John McCombe
•In addition to being the city at the forefront of punk and grunge, McCombe talked about Seattle’s creation of the anti-rock star rock star through frontrunners like Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and his "loser ethic."
•The so-called Seattle Sound, created by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Modest Mouse, is unique by being a combination of soft and quiet, and loud and hard noises, (McCombe) or a type of music that focused on noise, empathy, heaviness, and juxtapositions like "joyful alienation" and "carefree angst" (Melillo).
•Waters discussed how Sleater-Kinney connected with fans by translating feminism into emotional text. Their sound "created music that scared people—made them want to run and ignore the reality of the words," said Waters. He says that the band’s Carrie Brownstein hated the "soft, safe gumminess" of music. She asked, "Where’s the black and blue?" and used that mantra for inspiration.

Pinter in Seattle: A Creative Conversation with Frank Corrado and Harry Burton
Seattle’s currently in the middle of a serious love fest with Harold Pinter. This session opened with Dr. Susan Hollis Merritt’s long (but heartfelt) introduction to the late Nobel laureate playwright; she even recalled his death in December 2008 as one of the worst days of her life. She then introduced Frank Corrado and Harry Burton— and it was clear that all three oozed Pinter passion. Corrado, a Seattle actor, has curated a series of regular Pinter readings at ACT, while Burton just produced a film of all of his escapades with the man himself. Judging by the audience, there’s a dedicated, if elder, Pinter club in Seattle that regularly attends Corrado’s Pinter Fortnightly series. But are they reaching new audiences? I was the youngest one there by decades. Maybe things will change with the Pinter Festival, slated for summer 2012.

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