“Horror and Academics Do Mix” By Nicholas Diak
It’s February 2009, and I’m sitting behind a table in a small conference room at the Albuquerque Hyatt. I’m knee deep into the masters program at the University of Washington, and I am presenting at my first academic conference, the South West Popular/American Culture Association. In the room are roughly fifteen other scholars, students, teachers, independent scholars and my thesis advisor, anxious to hear my topic: an analysis of Antonio Margheriti’s James Bond/Raiders of the Lost Ark knock off, Sopravvissuti della città morta aka Ark of the Sun God. My PowerPoint beams with pictures of David Warbeck winking, with bullet points conveying that Ark of the Sun God challenges the baroque depictions of romantic relationships in action films…
The experience was a tremendous success. Attendees asked me questions about the film, and I was later invited to be part of a round table discussion of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. At next year’s SWPCA conference I gave a presentation on Margheriti’s film The Last Hunter (a hybrid rip off of Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter), and in 2011 I gave my presentation on his Italian gothic masterpiece, Castle of Blood. The presentation I had prepared and the feedback and suggestions I received were all compiled together and became the majority of my master’s thesis, Danza Macabra: The Reevaluation of Antonio Margheriti Through His Film Castle of Blood, which completed the next year, earning me my masters.
From 2012 to 2014 I continued to present at the SWPCA conference on Margheriti’s Eurospy films, with the bulk of my writing and received feedback being reworked into my first published essay “Permission to Kill: Exploring Italy’s 1960s Eurospy Phenomena, Impact and Legacy” in the book James Bond and Popular Culture in 2014. At this point I could officially call myself an academic writer. I was published in an academic text.
The route of presenting at an academic conference was invaluable to me. Each presentation became a mini-essay, a goal to write toward that later could be incorporated into a more robust, lengthier piece. The venue also allowed me to juggle ideas I had been floating about my topics, allowing me to experiment in a low-stakes environment. Unworkable ideas became workable or tossed out. No one was grading me but myself.
The next year I would join the Horror Writer’s Association as an academic member. Though the camaraderie at monthly meetings at the Los Angeles chapter provided encouragement and motivation, I found that opportunities for academics seemed to be few and far between. Michele Brittany and I approached President Lisa Morton with a proposal: could StokerCon perhaps add an academic conference component to it, something to cater to HWA academics?
The idea was quickly green lit, and the result was Michele and I co-creating the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference which debuted at StokerCon 2017 in Long Beach. The premise was to take the positive elements that both of us had been exposed to from our years at SWPCA – presenting, area chairing, panel moderating, etc. – and bring them to a horror-centric conference, catered to HWA academics, non-fiction writers, and fiction writers who wanted to try their hand in the genre. Ann Radcliffe was chosen as the conference namesake to not only honor her early contributions to horror academia, but also to spotlight a historic female presence in horror canon.
The inaugural conference was a huge success: five panel blocks with fourteen presentations on topics that ranged from Shirley Jackson to World War Z, from Lana del Rey to Penny Dreadful. Michele and I co-chaired each panel, ensuring that the panelists got the feedback they needed from the Q/A sessions. The feedback from other attendees was positive. An second Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference was quickly agreed on for StokerCon 2018 in Providence.
I owe much of my success thus far in my academic career, which is still in its early stages. The experiences and opportunities afforded by the medium has been invaluable to me, and it is hoped that others within the Horror Writers Association, academic or not, who have not presented at a conference to perhaps entertain the idea. Halloween is a spooky time of year, where the influx of horror cinema, television, and books consumed during the month to honour the holiday can also inspire thoughts an ideas. It’s the perfect time to perhaps flesh out a topic and proposal and maybe consider submitting to the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference. Details, of course, which can be found at stokercon2018.org
BIO: Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He is an HWA Academic member, and the co-creator of the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference. He can be found at nickdiak.com