The Florida College English Association holds a conference each year, where members showcase their scholarship in the fields of literary criticism, creative writing, writing pedagogy, and more.
2022 Plenary Speaker
Florida College English Association is pleased to announce that our plenary speaker for the 2022 conference will be John Henry Fleming!
To learn more about our exciting speaker, check out his website and the interview below conducted by FCEA’s Conference Coordinator, Kirsten Holt:
Q: What subjects/themes do you find most meaningful to explore in reading or writing?
A: I frequently return to a couple of subjects in my fiction. One is the importance of place—its effect on characters and vice versa. Place gives us possibilities. Place limits us. Place affects our mood and our interactions with others. It affects what we believe. We feel attachments to some places, aversion to others. I’m interested in the role place plays in making meaning in our lives. I’m also interested in how we make meaning from storytelling itself. When does a story become more than just a story? How do stories become legends and legends become myths? And, most relevant to our current crises, how do lies become accepted truths? Such meaning-making (and meaning-twisting) is inherent to the process of writing fiction. Fiction is the art of belief; a writer’s goal is to make readers believe—or to at least offer them reasons to believe—for the duration of the story. In that way, it reflects what we do in our everyday lives—all the storytelling, the lying, the attempts to convince ourselves and others that what we experience and what we believe are somehow “true.”
Q: In what ways does Florida connect to your work as an author?
A: From Ponce de Leon to Disney, Florida has been viewed by non-natives as an amorphous blob of wet sand, easily molded into castles or condos to attract settlers, tourists, and industry. What better place for a writer to bring his own pail and shovel? When I was growing up in West Palm Beach, I wasn’t sure Florida even had a past. What little of it there was in the popular imagination rarely extended beyond its state borders. So when it came time for me to write a novel, I borrowed a little-known figure in Florida history, the barefoot mailman, and turned it into my own tall-tale satire on the birth of the Florida tourist industry. The Florida landscape is rich in literary possibilities, from prehistoric creatures that will bite off your legs to Florida Men who will bite off your face. Everything wants to bite you here, including con men trying to take a bite out of your life savings and sinkholes trying to swallow you whole. But there is peace, too, and relaxation, and startling natural beauty, and a writer can sustain himself for years on that contrast between the tourist-brochure photos and the human and inhuman monsters lurking just beyond the frame.
Q: How do you interpret the symbol of roots (this year’s conference theme) and its impact on writing, teaching, reading, or media?
A: Roots imply grounding, and how else do we ground ourselves but in a place? Roots are a way of branching out to find meaning—not just in the past but extending into the present and the great diversity of people, settings, and ideas that enrich and give context. An untapped root is a wasted root, and I think it’s the mission of writers and scholars to find those untapped roots, to discover new and fertile ground for understanding our lives.