Three Conferences for the Price of One

…one YEAR off my LIFE, probably.

The semester is over! I emerge relatively unscathed from the maelstrom that was my last two months of college! And good god, I want to collapse. March and April were hands-down the busiest and most exhausting months of my entire life, and I’m glad they’re over. Three conferences in two weeks is a good way to run yourself straight into the ground, as I found out the hard way.

The conferences were amazing, though, so I wanted to do a quick rundown of what happened, for posterity! Also to brag a bit, because I presented three times and did not embarrass myself even a little.

[n.b. this post is so, so late; forgive me, blog gods.]


This was my first time showing my original academic work to anyone aside from my professors and/or my mom, who is my long-suffering beta reader. Combine that with the fact that this paper was basically my magnum opus and you’ve got a recipe for a very jittery Megan. This was my semester project from my junior seminar on utopian and dystopian fiction, and I was one of seven students (all women!) from that class who presented papers — so we made up about a third of the conference. I was on a panel called “A Brave New World: Dystopian Fiction for Women and Young Adults,” and we had a surprisingly good turnout, probably because we were talking about The Hunger Games and not Silas Marner or Bleak House. It actually made me less nervous to see so many people there, because I was excited to take questions and talk about my paper.

My paper title was “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Katniss,” and in it I examined several YA dystopias in order to determine what makes the genre so appealing to teenagers. i’m really into YA fiction (“Shocking!” says no one) and I had been really unsatisfied with the way the YA dystopian boom has been treated by the media; the explanation for the genre’s popularity hasn’t gone beyond “well, high school is a dystopia.” I’ll spare you the details of my paper  — unless you want them, in which case I will 100% send you a copy and make you talk to me about it — but my conclusion was basically that YA dystopias externalize a lot of the same “traditional” teen issues that contemporary YA fiction does. For example, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld takes the issue of body image and structures an entire dystopian society around it, with mandatory plastic surgery (plus lobotomy) at the age of 16. I had a tremendously good time writing this paper, and I’m actually really satisfied with my conclusions — I feel like I made a genuinely valuable contribution to the conversation surrounding YA publishing trends.


The Fantasy Studies Fellowship has been planning this conference all year, and it turned out so incredibly well! I’m very proud of everyone involved. We had a bunch of student panels in the morning, and then in the afternoon we had talks from Michael Drout (founder of the Tolkien Studies academic journal) and Laini Taylor (author of the NYT-bestselling Daughter of Smoke and Bone series). We had an amazing turnout, and everyone had a great time! Go team!

The first panel was for the top three student groups in Dr. Campbell’s Harry Potter class to present their topical projects, and since my group’s project placed second we got to present. (Did I twist my group members’ arms a bit so they would commit to an optional 9 a.m. presentation? Maybe. I’m committed to the FSF!) Our project was on ethics in the Wizarding world, and you can see it here, if you’re so inclined — my section is on the ethical use of magic. Shoutout to Sam McGinley and Ellie Petrosky, my bosses at the Pitt News copy desk, who were my partners on this project and only threatened to fire me twice while we were working on it.

I was pretty underprepared for my second presentation (two presentations in one day will do that to you) so instead of breaking for snacks with everyone else I sat in the conference room and made last-minute edits to my paper. About five minutes later my mother — who attended all of my presentations because she is a champ — came in to sit with me and casually mentioned that Laini Taylor had arrived. I looked up, saw a blur of neon pink hair through the glass doors, said (yelled?) “I CAN’T DEAL WITH THAT RIGHT NOW” and went back to editing my paper — my paper, “The Monstrous and the Divine in Daughter of Smoke and Bone.” Laini Taylor’s book. NBD!

Actually, it was a big deal. Huge deal! Colossal, enormous, gigantic deal! I am not a nervous speaker, but presenting on a book while the author is in the room would be a bit much for anyone. I’d been stressing about this for weeks, but had been assured that Taylor wasn’t going to be present for the student panels. She promised me! But as it turns out, both Taylor and Drout attended the second panel, and I very nearly had an aneurism about it. BUT I DIDN’T. I was great! I was worried that nobody would ask me any questions — because my paper was kind of… theological —but Drout asked me a really good question, and later said some really nice things about my paper. I was introduced to Taylor after the panel ended and I can’t remember anything that I said to her because I was having an out-of-body experience. I do remember she said that she liked my paper, and that she also liked my Evenstar necklace, so basically we’re best friends now.

The afternoon portion of the conference was the keynote lectures, and it was such a good time. Drout’s talk was about Tolkien’s influence on the fantasy genre (spoiler alert: he’s everywhere!) and had really interesting things to say about the way tropes and themes are communicated within the genre. Taylor’s talk was titled “FANTASY RULES: Why We’re More Awesome Than Everybody Else,” which was of course a delight. It was amazing listening to two completely different angles on the same topic; frankly it’s amazing listening to anyone talking earnestly about fantasy fiction at all. Really refreshing to have the genre I love so much be taken so seriously for a change, instead of being shoved off to the fifty-cent paperback shelf.

Also, I won a beautiful 50th anniversary Lord of the Rings omnibus in the raffle, so the clearly theme of this conference was actually “everything good happens to Megan all at once.”

just chillin' with my new bffs, Michael Drout and Laini Taylor

A post shared by Megan Zagorski (@megzags) on


I could only make it to one of the three days of the ACES conference, but I’m so glad I got to go at all! This conference was significantly less stressful, since I was only an attendee and not a presenter, so it was a nice way to wind down my conference whirlwind. Plus I got to see my friend Margaux for the first time since I left Missouri! She was presenting her master’s thesis at the conference (!!!) and we had a great time hitting the Pittsburgh highlight reel: Primanti’s, Pamela’s, the Incline.

The most important thing about the ACES conference, though, is that it got me on Buzzfeed! Emmy Favilla, the copy chief at Buzzfeed, was a panelist at the conference and also taking photos for a post about it. Emmy was so personable and fun, and her hair (magenta and purple) is amazing. If there’s one thing I took away from ACES, it’s that I should definitely go ahead and dye my hair lavender.

And I’ll need to go pastel soon, because these conferences probably tripled my gray hair count. I had a lot before — thanks, genetics — but this semester has put me on the fast track to Reed Richards realness. Shannon stood next to me for a photo at my graduation party and good a good look at the side of my head, and she laughed. Hmph.

Meanwhile, my delightful co-workers at the Pitt News have made the most of my Buzzfeed photo:

It was a deadline shift, okay? Everybody makes mistakes.


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