A three-hour lecture

Poet, professor visit China, lecture at literature conference

August 11, 2011

By Mike Killeen

Sophia Geng and Mark Conway prepared for their trip to China like any business travelers would.

They brought their materials. They studied, and they were ready to meet any crisis they faced.

Except for one thing.

"They wanted us to lecture for three hours," recalled Conway, director of the Literary Arts Institute at the College of Saint Benedict. "That was one of the things I wasn't prepared for. That was a surprise to me.

"But I found the students to be incredibly responsive and enthusiastic. I've stayed in touch with a number of the students (in China)," Conway said.

Conway and Geng, assistant professor of modern and classical languages at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, lectured at a conference on American Literature and Folklore May 24-29 at Southwest University in Beibei, Chongqing, China.

CSB and SJU have had a long, sustained relationship with Southwest. Since 2006, the schools have participated in a Summer Research Exchange Program. CSB and SJU students travel to China in May and begin research with a Chinese peer. In July, all the students come to CSB and SJU for six additional weeks of research.

In the summer of 2010, Professor Yimin Luo of Southwest University led the group of Chinese students to CSB and SJU.

"He was the major organizer of the literary conference at Southwest University. This was his proposal, to invite some faculty members from Saint Ben's and Saint John's to the conference," Geng said.

Geng is certainly no stranger to Southwest. A native of China, she has served as a faculty adviser to several students on the trip in previous years. This year, she is working with CSB student Faith Xiong and Cairang Zhuma from Southwest University on the influence of family and community education in the formation of Hmong identity in both Chongqing and St. Paul, Minn. - two cities that have significant Hmong populations.

"The Summer Research Exchange Program has been really focused on the science majors," Geng said. "But there are also new areas that we can develop, such as the humanities and fine arts."

Conway, an award-winning poet, also presented several readings of his poetry.

"We had more formal presentations, and then we also visited classes," Conway said. "In addition, I went to the New Chinese Poetry Institute, which is the only program of its kind in China as we understand it. It's an institute devoted to contemporary Chinese poetry.

"I was very curious about this program, to see if we could find ways to connect with it. I found that very valuable," Conway added.

"This is a good opportunity to really deepen the relationship with our partner, Southwest University," Geng said.

But it's also another step to deepen the relationship between CSB and SJU and China in all areas, they both added.

"It's really clear that the people of China are tremendously interested in virtually everything that's happening in the United States, and there's such vigor there anyway," Conway said. "In the United States, there's a tremendous hunger to know what's happening in China - not only in business, but also in the arts as well."

"It's really, really meaningful that the faculty, staff and students have the opportunity to experience this," Geng said. "To learn it and to experience it are totally different things. So, we hope our efforts can broaden the opportunities and form new initiatives."