*Adapted from an article by Gary Stringer, printed in Anglistik, Vol. 10, no. 1[March 1999], 85-95. [Anglistik: Mitteilungen des Verbandes Deutscher Anglisten (Institut für Englische Philologie, Wärzburg]. Updated July 2007.
The idea for the formation of a Donne Society began to be discussed at meetings of the Variorum editors and other congregations of Donne aficionados very early in the 1980s; and the proto-meeting of what would eventually be the John Donne Society of America occurred at the March 1984 meeting of theVariorum editors at USM's Gulf Park campus in Gulfport, Mississippi, when Gary Stringer decided to break up the agenda of business meetings and work sessions by adding a single session of scholarly papers. These were presented by Dan Doerksen, Dennis Flynn, and M. Thomas Hester, and the success of the session encouraged everyone to think about holding a full-fledged Donne Conference and founding a John Donne Society. Eugene Cunnar and M. Thomas Hester took the lead in scheduling a planning session at the 1984 MLA Convention, and by February of 1985 a meeting date in February 1986 had been set, a program committee established, and plans drawn up for a constitution and set of by-laws. Gary Stringer subsequently included a short notice of plans to form the Society in the April 18, 1985, issue of The Donne Variorum Newletter, and a call for papers went out that spring as well. At the MLA convention in 1985 the proposed constitution and by-laws were tentatively approved and the first slate of officers was nominated.
The first formal John Donne Society conference was held at Gulf Park on February 20-23, 1986. It was hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi and The Pennsylvania State University, and the program listed the Variorum Project and the John Donne Journal as sponsors. Invited guest speakers at the first conference included the distinguished 17th-century scholars Annabel Patterson, William Kerrigan, Stanley Stewart, and Raymond Waddington, and the first President of the Society, elected at that meeting, was John R.Roberts. Also elected to office were Eugene Cunnar, as Executive Director (a position he still holds), and Edward Sichi, who served as secretary-treasurer until his death in 1990. Subsequent presidents of the Society have included John T. Shawcross, M. Thomas Hester, Ted-Larry Pebworth, Claude J. Summers, Diana Trevio Benet, Albert C. Labriola, Ernest W. Sullivan, II, Dayton Haskin, Paul Stanwood, Achsah Guibbory, and Paul Parrish, Robert V. Young, Dennis Flynn, Judith Herz, Gary A. Stringer, Jeanne Shami, Gale Carrithers, Jr., Graham Roebuck and--currently--Ilona Bell. Mary Arshagouni Papazian was elected secretary-treasurer upon the death of Ed Sichi in 1990 and served in this office until she stepped down in March of 2005. At this year's annual meeting, Helen B. Brooks (Stanford University) was elected as the society's third ever secretary-treasurer.
As noted above, the Society succeeded in lining up a distinguished group of invited speakers for its inaugural conference and has had the good fortune to enlist invited speakers of similar distinction for subsequent meetings. In chronological order, these include the following, several of whom have been invited to present plenary addresses more than once: A. J. Smith, Tony Low, John Shawcross, Mary Ann Radzinowicz, Louis Martz, Tom Hester, Carol Kaske, A. B. Chambers, Ted-Larry Pebworth, Ernest W. Sullivan, Janel Mueller, Claude Summers, Ilona Bell, Mario DiCesare, Diana Benet, Dennis Flynn, Barbara Lewalski, Albert Labriola, Regina Schwartz, Leah Marcus, Dayton Haskin, Jeanne Shami, Ann Coiro, Peter Beal, Paul Stanwood, Bryan Gooch, Helen Wilcox, Achsah Guibbory, Anne Prescott, Blair Worden, Paul Parrish, Margaret J.M. Ezell, Heather Dubrow, Robert V. Young, Edward W. Taylor, Deborah Shuger, Dennis Flynn, Judith Herz, Gary A. Stringer, Judith Anderson, M. Thomas Hester, Jeanne Shami, Joshua Scodel, Peter McCullough, James D. Hardy, Jr. (for himself and Gale H. Carrithers, Jr.), Margaret Maurer, Tom Cain, Graham Roebuck, John R. Robert, and Ilona Bell. In addition to invited speakers, of course, 15 to 20 other scholars, chosen on a competitive basis, present their work at the February meeting each year. For a number of years now, the Society has been an Allied Organization of the Modern Language Association and has sponsored two sessions at the annual MLA convention.
At the conclusion of the first meeting the attendees were so pleased with the experience that it was decided to return to Gulf Park the following year, and that venue was the site of every annual conference until the closing of the conference center after the 2004 meeting. The 2005 conference was held on the campus of Lousiana State University. Annual attendance has averaged about 60, with scholars coming from all parts of the U.S. and Canada, and every year there are scholars from as far away as England, Scandinavia, Australia, and Hong Kong. The society particularly welcomes graduate students and frequently includes them on the program. We are happy to have this opportunity to describe it for readers who have not known of its existence, and we extend to all a warm welcome to join and come to our meetings. For further information, anyone can contact Sean McDowell or Greg Kneidel at the addresses listed below.
Sean McDowell, Department of English, Seattle University, Seattle, WA 98122. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gregory Kneidel, Department of English, University of Connecticut—
West Hartford, 85 Lawler Ave., West Hartford, CT 06107. Email: email@example.com