Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Novelist Jonathan Franzen to Kick off College's Annual Sophie Kerr Weekend for Young Writers, March 31

Chestertown, MD, March 8, 2006 — Washington College welcomes acclaimed essayist and novelist Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, to kick off its annual Sophie Kerr Weekend, Friday, March 31, 2006 at 4 p.m. in the College's Norman James Theatre. The reading from his forthcoming "personal history" The Discomfort Zone is free and open to the public. Book signing to follow.

Held every March at Washington College, the Sophie Kerr Weekend gives a group of 100 high school-age writers a chance to experience the College's renowned creative writing program through readings, seminars, and small-group workshops with visiting writers and faculty members.

The Sophie Kerr Weekend also honors the legacy of the late Sophie Kerr, a writer from Denton, Md., whose generosity has enriched Washington College's literary culture. When she died in 1965, Kerr left the bulk of her estate to Washington College, specifying that one half of the income from her bequest be awarded every year to the senior showing the most "ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor"—the famed Sophie Kerr Prize—and the other half be used to bring visiting writers to campus, to fund scholarships, and to help defray the costs of student publications.

Jonathan Franzen joins authors and poets such as Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O'Brien, and Billy Collins, who in recent years have read from their works to start the weekend's activities.

When The Corrections was published in the fall of 2001, Jonathan Franzen was probably better known for his nonfiction than for the two novels he had already published. In an essay he wrote for Harper's in 1996, Franzen lamented the declining cultural authority of the American novel and described his personal search for reasons to persist as a fiction writer. "The novelist has more and more to say to readers who have less and less time to read," he wrote. "Where to find the energy to engage with a culture in crisis when the crisis consists in the impossibility of engaging with the culture?"

Five years after publishing this essay, Franzen became fully engaged with his culture. The Corrections was an enormous international bestseller, with translations in 35 languages, American hardcover sales of nearly one million copies, and nominations for nearly every major book prize in the country. Franzen was awarded the National Book Award for this novel. As if sales and critical acclaim weren't enough to boost his profile, the author found himself in a public relations imbroglio over his conflicted reaction to his book's endorsement by Oprah's Book Club.

Franzen's first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988), was a reimagination of his hometown, St. Louis, through the eyes of conspirators and terrorists from South Asia. His second novel, Strong Motion (1992), was a thriller-cum-love-story set in the student slums of Boston. Both books displayed Franzen's ability to connect the personal and the political, the emotional and the social, in compelling and richly textured narratives.

Born in Western Springs, Illinois, in 1959, Jonathan Franzen grew up in Webster Goves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1981, he studied in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar and later worked in a seismology lab at Harvard. Franzen is also the author of a bestselling collection of essays, How to Be Alone. He lives in New York City and continues to write essays, including political journalism for The New Yorker.

Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in historic Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, it was the first college chartered in the new nation.

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