Read the beginning of this story here.
I almost didn't go to the 1993 IRSCL conference in Geelong, Australia, because I had just returned home after six months in the USA, but I was younger then, and Australia was enticing, and I was a board member with another term of service possible, and everybody knows that you don't get elected if you aren't there.
But, absolutely honestly, when I went, I was not expecting to be nominated for presidency. I hoped to be re-elected to the board, and I hoped that the new president would be nice to work with. These days, elections are prepared well in advance, and the candidates circulate their CVs and personal statements. Which is the way it should be. But in the old days, board members were recruited on the spot, as late as an hour before voting. As we were finalising the programme, the current president asked whether I would like to stand for election. I was overwhelmed. When I sais, yes, I would, she told me to cherry-pick my board and tell the election committee. I looked around. I cherry-picked my board. It was a great board, and we spent many good days together in various parts of the world.
I was immediately faced with a huge problem. Typically, biennial conferences would be planned far in advance, so that at any conference the next one would be already in progress and the one after that under negotiation. I had no conference bid, and the only solution was to do it myself. Which I did, and it was the worst nightmare of my life. I can say it now, twenty years later, because I know that people who were there remember it as a very successful conference. Only I know about all the small disasters, and in retrospect I shouldn't have done it, not there and then, but did I have a choice, a newly elected president with no conference bid?
Twenty years is a long time ago. I remember the board meetings leading to the conference: deciding on a theme, discussing keynote speakers, sending out call for papers. It was in the stone age before everybody had email - we sent 300 printed copies of the newsletter to forty countries. My department covered the costs.
Selecting papers, compiling the programme, finding session chairs. This was also the first year we gave the IRSCL book award. A lot of work for the board. But the bulk of the conference preparation was in Sweden, and I would have never managed it without the strong children's literature community, not just my university, but the Children's Book Institute, the Writers' Union, the illustrators, the libraries. I could arrange a reception at the City Hall, the venue of the Nobel banquet. There was an evening archipelago cruise with shrimp dinner and dance. There was a post-conference trip to the Astrid Lindgren theme park.
I made tons of mistakes, but I am not telling anyone, and it wouldn't be helpful because no conference is like another one.
I was re-elected for another term, but it was simpler because we had the next venue and theme, and the board meetings were less stressful for me. The 1997 conference was in York, UK, and I stepped down, but stayed on the board as immediate past president to ensure continuity. Almost the whole board stepped down, which is never good, but there was a new bunch of people coming in, and things were changing. In 1999, IRSCL had the first and only joint conference with the rival organisation, the Children's Literature Association. Some people wanted the two organisations to merge, while there was strong opposiiton to this. A one-off joint conference was a compromise. IRSCL had initially been a Euro-centric organisation, even though two presidents has been from the USA. The York conference yielded many British members, and after the 1999 conference in Calgary, which was great fun, a deluge of US members came. I was surprised to learn, at the membership meeting in Worcester last week, that a third of the members today are from the USA. There weren't as many in my days.
But my days are long gone. When I skipped 2001 in South Africa because we had just moved back to Sweden from California, I thought it would be just one time. In 2003, when it was in Norway, just around the corner, I had prepared a panel with my colleagues and students from the Nordic Children's Literature Network (NorChiLNet), but had to cancel at short notice because of severe health problems. I missed Japan in 2005 and Ireland in 2007 for the same reason. I went to Frankfurt in 2009 because it was a reunion: 40 years since the organisation was founded, and all past presidents who were still alive were there.
I missed Brisbane in 2011 and Maastricht in 2013 for various reasons. It was sad, because I once invested so much in this organisation and it meant so much to me. Therefore it felt such an honour and pleasure to be asked to do a keynote in Worcester. How many years after presidency do you need to be in quarantine?
I believe I was the longest-standing member at that conference. The membership meeting asked me for clarification of some history. On the last day, a French colleague arrived. It was the person who asked me a question at my very first conference in Bordeaux in 1983.