November 2012 Archways

Graphic Pioneer

The Emily Balch Speaker Series features acclaimed author and comic artist Alison Bechdel.

By Diana Campeggio

Alison Bechdel speaks to Bryn Mawr students. Photo by Kit Farman for Bryn Mawr College.

As part of the Emily Balch Speaker Series, acclaimed author Alison Bechdel spoke to a rapt audience of students on September 27. Bechdel is best known for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and her 2006 graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Her latest work is Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, published in May 2012.

Bechdel’s dynamic presentation included short passages and panels from her graphic memoirs and comic strips and a discussion moderated by Creative Writing Program Director Daniel Torday. She then took questions from the audience and joined students for dessert at Thomas Great Hall, which was transformed into a Victorian-era sitting room. There, she signed copies of her work and engaged in more intimate conversations with students.

An intellectual pioneer of the graphic form, Bechdel has succeeded in the male-dominated genre of comics. Her work touches on both personal and political spheres, using characters that are close to her to illustrate larger issues of oppression and liberation.

“By making queer and feminist issues prominent in her work,” says Kelsey Weymouth-Little ’16, “Bechdel starts an important dialogue about these issues and helps queer and feminist students feel that they and their beliefs are worthy of representation and discussion. She is an inspiration to all of us and helps start important dialogues about queer and gender issues.”

Bechdel’s visit marks the second year for the speaker series, which features an author who is also discussed as part of the Emily Balch Seminars, discussion-oriented, reading and writing intensive courses for first-year students. Last year’s speaker, author and Pulitzer-Prize finalist Karen Russell, read passages from her 2011 novel, Swamplandia!

“The hope has been and will be,” says Torday, “that we can bring an exciting, unique writer to campus each fall for an exclusive event for each incoming first-year class that comprises a talk and an opportunity for more intimate conversation with the speaker. We want to frame the Emily Balch Seminar experience by hosting an event with a writer whose multifaceted, liberal-arts-style education has led them to a life of writing, of the mind, and as a public voice.”

On-campus excitement surrounding Bechdel’s visit ran so high that an additional talk and book-signing open to the entire community was added and took place earlier in the day at English House.

View a slide show with more photos from Bechdel’s visit.

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