Terra Incognita: A Literary Gathering and Workshop

Location: University of Pittsburgh - Cathedral of Learning.

Register here: Terra Incognita

Dates: Nov 9-11

There is a point of arrival but no way - Franz Kafka

It is undeniable that there is an “unknown” (the geographers of ancient times traced the outline of what amounts to an analogue of this unknown with the famous expression terra incognita that marked the edge of their great sheet - along the margins of the sheet they wrote terra incognita, “unknown land”). At the edge of reality that the eye embraces, the heart feels, and the mind imagines, there is an unknown. Everyone feels it. Everyone has always felt it. Throughout the ages, humans have felt it so strongly that they have also imagined it. In every age humans have sought, through their ponderings or fantasies, to imagine, to fix the face of this unknown. In his Germania, Tacitus described the religious feeling that distinguished the ancient Teutons thus: secretum illud quod sola reverentia vident, hoc deum appellant” (that mysterious thing which they intuited with fear and trembling, this they called God). - Luigi Giussani


November 9-11, University of Pittsburgh, Cathedral of Learning, rooms 501, 512, and 407


5:00-5:15 Introduction - Suzanne Lewis

5:20-6:30   Terra Incognita and the Self: Female Embodiment as Strange Land

Panelists: Maren Grossman, Michelle De Groot, Jessica Mesman Griffith, Cassidy Hall, Carla   Myers

6:30   Break for dinner

7:30-8:15 KEYNOTE:

Mary Doria Russell: Staying Curious

8:15 Reception and Book Signing


9:00 AM Joint Sessions / Panels

  1. Session on Genre Fiction

Existential Hunger in Future-Noir and Cyberpunk - Lilianna Meldrum Serbicki

Speculative Fiction and Politics - Andrew Reising

                 Science Fiction and the Exploration of Self - Alexander Pyles  

      2) Disability in Literature - Miles Woodfield 

      3) Elemental Faith: Exploring the Sacraments in Creation - Sarah Margaret Babbs

10:15 Joint Sessions / Panels

  1. HC SVNT Dracones: Women-of-a-Certain-Age Discuss What it is to be Crones Who Read and Write

Panelists: Marybeth Chuey Bishop and Kristen Allen

     2) Session on Music

Myths Reinterpreted in Wagner’s Parsifal - Gregory Moomjy

The Truth Is Out There: The Unique Role of Art in the Pursuit of

the Unknowable - Josh Caress

    3) The Trickster Figure: Between the Boundaries, Outside the Walls

     Panelists:  John Farrell, Rebecca Bratten Weiss, and Rosalie Morales Kearns

11:30 KEYNOTE:

Ewa Chrusciel: Uncertain Clarity

(book signing to follow)


1:30 A Wilderness Of Our Own: What Happens When Women Writers Go

Beyond the Feminine?

Panelists: Jessica Mesman Griffith, Joanna Penn Cooper, Rebecca Bratten Weiss, Rosalie Morales Kearns, Colleen Connell Mitchell, and Sarah Margaret Babbs     

2:45 Joint Sessions / Panels

      1) Presentations on Myth and Symbol

      There Would Be No Poetry If Orpheus Had Not Looked Back:

The Terra Incognita of the Present Moment - Isak Bond

   Settling In With Unsettling Tales for Children - Mary Pezzulo

Emerson and the Emblem in the Fabric of the Universe - Cosmin Dzsurdzsa

      2) God and Sumner Redstone: Existential Contingency and the Meaning of Life in Film

             John Farrell and Jessica Mesman Griffith and Lilianna Meldrum Serbicki     

3) Presentations on Terra Incognita Within

      Attending to the “Inside”: Hidden Terrains of Resistance in Authoritarian

Regimes  - Dr.  Jennifer Reek

        Threshold of Discovery: The Spiritual Potential of Midlife as

Terra Incognita - L. Roger Owens

     The Stranger Within - Mindy Selmys

4:00 Keynote:

Suzanne Wolfe: Love and Gravity: Augustine’s Theology and The Confessions of X

(book signing to follow)

The evening schedule is left open for supper, conversation, or local sightseeing


The morning schedule is left open for Mass, brunch, or sleeping in

11: 00 Workshops

  1. Opening the Door: A Writing Workshop with Rosalie Morales Kearns

  2. How To Think Like a Poet: Lecture and Interactive Exercise with Ryan Wilson

12:30 Joint Sessions

  1. The Infinite Mystery of Silence: The Encountering Silence Podcast With Cassidy Hall and

Kevin M. Johnson

  1. To the Moon and Back: The Edge of Reason in Ariosto and Calvino - Lucy Tucker Yates  

  2. Film scene screening: “Forgotten Massacres: Eastern European Edition” - John Farrell

1:45 Poetry readings with Joanna Penn Cooper, Rebecca Bratten Weiss, and Ryan Wilson


Justin O’Connor: “The Will to Bigness” - Teaching Infinite Jest in Pittsburgh

         Featured art exhibit: Paintings by Maria Ignelzi, “Bodies And Places”

To explore the unknown is to encounter monsters, to be afraid, to be lost, to be heartbroken. It can mean a shattering of everything one had held dear. But it can also be revelation, the epiphany of being, the encounter with that which pulls everything else together and makes sense of it.

In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the strange old man is compelled to tell his story, his account of the visions and tribulations on a “wild, wild sea.” He has to find a listener, so he stops the wedding guest on the way to the feast, and the listener in turn is compelled to hear. This is the power of the stories from the unknown. They must be told. We must listen. So artists and storytellers are forever inconveniencing us, breaking in on our ordinary lives, telling stories that shake our foundations.

Our literary gathering is dedicated to exploring this terrain of the unknown, as it has been indicated and mapped out through literature and the arts, with a particular focus on “that mysterious thing.” The presence of the divine in the undiscovered countries, the terra incognita, will rarely be what one expected to find, or where one hoped to find it. The word one hears may not be what one planned to hear, or was prepared to hear, yet in some way it must have been what you were longing to hear. Otherwise, you could not have heard it.

We will gather as writers, scholars, and readers to discuss the ways in which art has approached the unknown lands, and brought back word of the “mysterious thing.” This means we will focus especially on works of fantasy, the surreal, magical realism, science fiction, the gothic, and the mystical, but there is no restriction on genre, because every artist is grasping for this unknown.

We welcome proposals for individual papers and panel presentations on the topic of “Terra Incognita.” All proposals should state the central theme to be addressed, important subpoints, and reasons why the proposed subject would be a good topic for our gathering. If submitting a panel proposal, clarify briefly which topics each panel presenter intends to cover.

Both individual papers and panel proposals should include short biographical statements on each person involved. Proposals should be approximately a paragraph in length, and sent in Word documents, in Times New Roman 12 point font, to

Deadline for proposals is June 30


Sponsored by Revolution of Tenderness and Pittsburgh Christian Studies