For me, a JASNA AGM (Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America) can be anywhere. As long as there are breakouts and panels and all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time, it doesn't matter where I am in the world. But the location of this AGM was particularly captivating. Perhaps it was because I'd never been to Chicago before (other than various layovers in O'Hare Airport). Perhaps it was because my hotel room had a lake view. Or perhaps it was because the shops and bustle of Michigan Avenue were right outside my door. All I know is that I fell in love with Chi-town and know I will return for more.
As for the AGM itself, it was like one of those dreams that you never want to wake up from, the one where you turn on the hotel TV and there are Jane Austen movies playing 24 hours a day on one of the channels—I'm not kidding; the AGM folks really did make that happen. That and having costume rentals on site for those who wished to dance at the ball in Regency costume and didn't have their own. And a professional photographer to memorialize the occasion.
And all that was in addition to the main attraction, which was an array of breakouts and panels and poster sessions that were so fascinating I wished I could have slipped out of my own breakout (yes, my very first time as a breakout speaker) to attend at least three others that were going on at the same time. An embarrassment of riches it was, from the Thursday night curtain-raiser, Visualizing Jane Austen and Jane Austen Visualizing, featuring Jeff Nigro of the Art Institute of Chicago talking about the elusive portraits of Austen, to the riveting panel on Friday, entitled How far across countries, cultures and disciplines does Jane Austen's legacy reach? featuring Austen scholars Inger Sigrun Brodey, Paula Marantz Cohen, Gillian Dow, Peter Graham and Elisabeth Lenckos. And so much more.
My only regrets were that I missed Claudia Johnson's Saturday morning talk and that I couldn't figure out how to attend the ball and the panel on Romance Fiction in the Wake of Austen at the same time. I really do think that a cloning workshop must be offered at an AGM of the future!
Then there were all the little touches, like witnessing a marriage proposal at the opening of the Saturday night Regency ball. The aspiring groom quoted from the famous Persuasion love letter, and his beloved of course said yes. There was even a preview of the upcoming Broadway musical version of Pride and Prejudice at the Sunday brunch. Not being a big musical aficionado, I didn't expect to be moved to tears, as I was, by the musical talents of co-creators Lindsay Baker and Amanda Jacobs, not to mention besotted with the production's Mr. Darcy, Colin Donnell (nice first name, don't you think?), who made the pulses of every female in the room start racing.