Norm and Transgression Fairy-Tale Conference Recap

June 13, 2023

As many of you know, last week we went to the Norm and Transgression in the Fairy-Tale Tradition: (Non)Normative Identities, Forms, and Writings conference at Brown University in Rhode Island… and we are thrilled to report that we had THE MOST AMAZING time!!

This postcard is hilarious.

People, neither of us had been to an in-person conference since 2019. As Brittany’s partner Josh put it, that’s OVER 1000 MOONS, which is just mind-blowing. Conferences used to be something we did MULTIPLE times a year. They were a huge part of our graduate school experience and, frankly, we missed them. We know that some academics hate conferences – they can be like nerve-destroying pseudo job interviews – but we love them. Granted, this may largely have to do with the fact that fairy-tale scholars are some of the nicest, most brilliant people in the world, but it’s also because we just get so excited and inspired when learning about our colleagues’ incredible work!

Such a good poster!!

The Norm and Transgression conference was everything we hoped it would be and more. As a smaller conference JUST for fairy tales, there was such energy and focus on the topic. We loved that there weren’t any concurrent panels that we had to choose between. Instead, only one talk was happening at a time, which meant everyone had a chance to hear each paper, so we were all always in the same space and on the same page. Also, they kept us fueled with excellent food and coffee constantly, which created even more time for us to chat with the other attendees. We met so many wonderful people (including a couple who had taken Carterhaugh courses – shout out to Elizabeth Howard and Elena Sottilotta!), our paper on Kalynn Bayron’s phenomenal book Cinderella is Dead was received really well (you can watch our practice run on our Patreon if you’re interested!), and – of course – our TBR piles grew by a foot or two at least. We also got to see several beloved fairy-tale friends and colleagues that we hadn’t seen in ages, like Jeana Jorgensen, Anne Duggan, Linda Lee, Christy Williams, Veronica Schanoes, Abigail Heiniger, Cristina Bacchilega, Maria Tatar, and so many more! Most of all, it felt really good to be in the academic world again, albeit in a slightly different capacity. We felt confident in our roles as mid-career scholars and entrepreneurs, and that feeling was priceless. As we said to each other, high-fiving, after we finished our paper – “we still got it!”

Us + Veronica, Christy, and Linda!

Here are some little tidbits in the form of lists –

5 Awesome Things We Learned

  1. Veronica Schanoes’ forthcoming book on Jewish fairy tales is going to change the field, we’re certain of it. Her work on Joseph Jacobs, a Jewish Australian man who collected fairy tales, alone is brilliant. We were particularly fascinated by her discussion regarding his insistence that there was no anti-semitism in England… when he was literally getting it from his “friends” on the regular.
  2. Abigail Heiniger is working on a book about post-colonial fairy tales and we are SO excited that someone, especially someone as good as she is, is finally doing this. Her argument that Louise Bennett-Coverley’s adaptation of “Bluebeard” for the Jamaican stage in the 1940s sparked a cultural revolution there was riveting.
  3. Fairies were associated with a large number of revolutions, such as the 1450 Kent Rebellion – even that far back people outside the norm were identifying with fairies and “reflecting an instinctive association of fairies with other targets of oppressive regulation,” as Morgan Daimler appealingly put it.
  4. We love Marco Caracciolo’s idea of “slow narratives,” as discussed in Chengcheng You’s talk on Naoko Awa’s fairy tales (see below), stories that are not full of drama and big twists and instead focus on things like the interconnected nature of human and non-human experiences.
  5. We also loved Cristina Bacchilega’s assertion that fairy tales “propel us into an otherworld where things can be otherwise” (aka anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal, environmentally conscious, etc.)

5 Hilarious Things That Came Up

  1. Laura Tosi‘s keynote about Shakespeare’s plays redone as fairy tales for children was so hilarious we’re probably going to do a totally separate post on it… it’s just amazing.
  2. Histoire de la MarquiseMarquis de Banneville – a seventeenth-century story of two crossdressing protagonists who fall in love and MAY have been written at least partially by Charles Perrault – sounds epic and wonderful, and we’d never heard of it before! Thanks, Pablo a Marca!
  3. In the video game Cinders, Christy Williams explained that you can apparently take the SPARKLE PATH. We will be taking the sparkle path from now on.
  4. Maria Tatar insinuating that a good deal of the Grimms’ success was due to their spot-on name. I mean, we don’t think she’s wrong!
  5. The Afro-Creole French song “Weird Solo by a Zombi-Frog” by Adrien Rouquette (and mentioned in Ryan Atticus Doherty’s paper), which we are very sorry to tell you does not appear to be online anywhere (but IS in this anthology!)

5 Things We’ve Been Pondering in the Aftermath

  1. Is there a “trauma aesthetic” in literature and, if so, what is it? How is it limiting? The creation of a “trauma canon” can be silencing, as Talia Crockett pointed out.
  2. How can we preserve fairy tales even while deconstructing and subverting them? Should we?
  3. We love to talk about the transgressive in fairy tales when it’s about things like amplifying queer voices and smashing the patriarchy, but what about the ways that fairy tales are transgressively used for purposes we DON’T like? A good example that Maria Tatar pointed out is the NRA’s reclaiming of the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” as an example of the horrors that could be avoided if one is able to protect oneself with a gun – we have to acknowledge and talk about this side of things too.
  4. According to Cristina Bacchilega, the word “nature” doesn’t appear at all in many indigenous languages – what does that reflect about their view of the world vs the typical Western view?
  5. Is “Bluebeard” the “foundational horror” as Maria Tatar suggested?

5 Books We Now HAVE To Read ASAP

  1. A Crown of Violets by Renée Vivien – her queer fairy-tale poetry sounds incredible (not to mention her amazing sounding LIFE). We’d never heard of her before, and we’re thrilled to pieces that Eleanor Keane discussed her!
  2. Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan – these fairy-tale retellings focused around trauma sound fascinating (and horrifying). Shoutout to Silvia Storti, who just successfully defended her PhD thesis (GO SILVIA!), for bringing this to our attention.
  3. Edinburgh by Alexander Chee – a compelling-sounding twist on the Asian shapeshifting fox legends from the perspective of a young queer man, discussed by Luciana Cardi.
  4. The Medieval Changeling: Health, Childcare, and the Family Unit by Rose A. Sawyer – a new scholarly monograph on changelings with a focus on disability that sounds excellent. Morgan Daimler mentioned this in the Q&A after her talk!
  5. The Fox’s Window: And Other Stories by Naoko Awa – dismissed in the West when it first came out as “lacking darkness” (? AGH!), Awa’s book of fairy tales sounds soft and full of delight, and we’re so glad Chengcheng You discussed them!

5 Movies/TV Shows We Gotta Check Out ASAP Too

  1. Gatta Cenerentola (“Cat Cinderella“) (2017)
  2. La Jeune Fille Sans Mains (“The Girl Without Hands“) (2016)
  3. Le Roi et l’Oiseau (“The King and the (Mocking)Bird”) (1980)
  4. Fantaghirò (“The Cave of the Golden Rose” in English) (1991-1996)
  5. Ex Machina (2014)

Thank you to Cristina Bacchilega, Anne Duggan, Maria Tatar, and Elena Emma Sottilotta for mentioning them!

Ahhh so many amazing things to read and watch! We’ve heard that there might be an edited collection or two of some of these talks as academic papers, and we desperately hope that happens. The quality and variety of these talks were just through the roof. It made us so happy to be a part of these conversations and to really feel like a part of the community in such a vibrant, immediate way. Honestly, we wish we could recap the entire conference for you here – it was that good. From wolves in fairy tales (Carl F. Miller) to Carmen Maria Machado and the fairy tale (Carolin Jesussek) to queer YA fairy-tale novels with our awesome co-panelists (Jill Coste and Brittany (Bee) Eldridge, you are the coolest!), our brains were just lit up like Christmas trees for three days straight. We also literally don’t think we’ve talked that much to that many people in such a short amount of time ever, in our entire lives. And everyone was so brilliant and so lovely. We are now dead introverts, but it was WORTH IT.

Also Brown has a beautiful campus, and it is full of bunnies. This is very important.


Lastly, we want to give a special, massive thank you to Alessandro Cabiati, who organized the conference with the help of renowned fairy-tale scholar Lewis Seifert. Both of them went above and beyond to make this conference the best it could possibly be, and they succeeded admirably. Epically. We only wish they could make it a yearly event!! (We would be there. With bells and fairy dust. Just saying.)

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