What follows is English Matters' interview with Sarah Faulkner, the English Ph.D. candidate responsible for Janefest 2017. Our conversation began over lunch at the UW Club, where she made eating an insufficiently chopped kale salad look easily polite, then finished by way of emails interjecting on her efforts to write a dissertation. Sarah Faulkner is dynamism incarnate. If you want to feel better about your busy life, try locating an hour of Sarah's that is not already spoken for. Finding the time was well worth it -- you'll enjoy getting to know her too.
So Sarah, we know a good bit about JaneFest 2017 at this point. It seems to have been a massive undertaking! Can you tell us why you were so interested in taking on this task, and how you developed the skills to handle it?
I've loved Austen since she was first assigned to me in high school at the age of 16 (fun fact: my amazing high-school-teacher-now-friend came to the Festival!) and joined multiple dance and community groups because of that love. When I first walked onto campus in 2014, I took one look at Denny Hall and thought "I'll host a Regency Ball there before I graduate." While Denny Hall didn't work out, the desire to host a campus-community event surrounding my lifelong love of Austen remained. I've met so many Austen enthusiasts throughout my time in Seattle, and I kept thinking how lovely it would be to bring everyone together on campus to celebrate Austen's bicentenary. The response we received is a true testament to Austen's continued popularity! I didn't expect it to get as big as it did, but my event planning experience I gained while working for Student and Campus Life at Chapman University prepared me for the massive logistical and emotional work!
Big jobs come with big challenges. What was toughest about making this brand new, multi-faceted event happen?
One of the largest challenges was understanding my role as the central organizer of an event with so many different collaborators, sponsors, and events. After I laid out my original vision for the day, I worked as a sort of liaison between the campus and community organizers to ensure that everyone had the information and resources they needed to make it a reality. Luckily, so many of my amazing team had vast experience in Austen-related events, and could help guide me. Another great challenge was trying to figure out how much to delegate to the incredibly kind and generous people who helped me. I learned a lot about how to communicate, delegate, when I was asking too much of my friends, and when it was okay to ask for a little more help from those who expressed willingness to do so. I had many fears surrounding the festival, but I got through them by hoping that the joy of the event and kindness of its guests would smooth over any hiccups. I also kept repeating to myself that I could move to Spain if it was a disaster.
How did you feel when it went so well?
The day was such a blur! I truly wish I could go back and be in five places at once to experience everything the Festival had to offer. I was so relieved and happy when it went well! My favorite part of the day was meeting the guests, some of whom had traveled from across the country to attend, and hear their stories of when and how they first connected with Austen's works. I loved seeing the connections guests formed before, during, and after the festival. I was so grateful--and reveled in not being able to check my email for an entire day!
Finally, whom ought you to thank, and what's next for Sarah Faulkner?
I ought to thank, and hope I have, literally everyone who knows me. I couldn't have done it without the help of far more people than I have room to thank here. To my friends and family who would call to ask how I was--and for months got responses solely about the Festival--who offered their enthusiasm and support. To my amazing friends at UW who stood by my side through the madness, the wonderful collaborators who shaped my vision and provided such a unique experience through their booths, events, and passion, and every one of the 800 guests who braved freezing rain and football traffic to celebrate Jane Austen with us. I suppose I should thank Austen too (though I'd be interested to hear her thoughts on all this...).
Continuing my theme of celebrating British women writers' bicentenaries, I'm currently planning an event to commemorate the bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein called “Frankenreads.” The event will be on or around Halloween 2018 and will bring academic and community scholars from different fields together to discuss the impact of this amazing novel. I'm currently working on a PhD dissertation on the development of authority in British national and historical novels of the early nineteenth century, as well as teaching a Harry Potter-themed intermediate composition class. Over the next year I'll be taking up research fellowships at McGill University and the New York Public Library to work on my dissertation, teaching, and preparing to look for a full-time professorship once my time at UW comes to an end!