By Molly Murphy
This is the first in a series that will highlight the people and activity of our regional branches. The series will begin with the Regional Representatives, but will continue with features on scholars, events, and other activities happening in that area.
Dr. Matthew L. Reznicek is President of the Midwest Regional American Conference for Irish Studies. He is also Associate Chair of the Department of English and Assistant Professor of the Department of Medical Humanities at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
He originally got involved with Irish Studies “by accident.” Reznicek says “I was asked to take Intro to Irish Literature my sophomore year in college. I had originally wanted to study Jane Austen, but fell in love with Maria Edgeworth and then, when I went to study abroad at the University of Limerick, Tina O’Toole introduced me to Kate O’Brien, who became an intellectual obsession.”
Reznicek first attended the ACIS Midwest Regional Conference in Kansas City as an undergraduate student, “but my first national meeting was the New Orleans conference. From the beginning, ACIS felt like such a warm and welcoming organization; it introduced me to colleagues who quickly became lifelong friends, like Dr. Ellen Scheible. I was doing my Ph.D. at Queen’s University Belfast and so felt, in some ways, distant from the American academy; but after New Orleans, ACIS felt like an intellectual and collegial home.”
“Besides the amazing research that continues to challenge our conception of the field, I think my favorite element of ACIS is of course the people, especially people like Anna Teakell, Mindi McMann, and Barry Devine who are so encouraging to graduate students as well as undergraduates. There are so many people in ACIS who want to lift as they climb, which is really the only way to inhabit the academy.”
It can be difficult to plan an academic conference, even without contending with a global pandemic. “It always feels like you’re building a Rube Goldberg machine or planning a dinner party for an unknown number of guests with an unknown menu.” However, Reznicek manages to find the beauty in the chaos. “To stick with the food metaphor, a good conference always feels like a gumbo: all the disparate elements remain recognizable and distinct, but come together to flavor the whole in this unique and delicious manner.”
For Reznicek, one of the most rewarding parts of ACIS is getting to make a difference in the lives of scholars at all levels and making them feel like part of the family. “At the Midwest Conference in Omaha, it was amazing to have two entire panels of undergraduate researchers, for many of whom this was their first conference. One of them, at the end, made sure to tell us that her welcome at MWACIS cemented her decision to pursue Irish Studies as a field for further studies. That felt like we did our job.”
As for the 2020 Midwest Conference, which is scheduled for October 8-10 at Northern Illinois Univerity in DeKalb, Illinois, the show will still go on. Reznicek is most looking forward to attending the performance of Frank McGuinness’s play, which will be part of the conference. “Dr. Sean Farrell always knows how to organize an outstanding conference that pulls together all the elements of our field.”