Chestertown, MD, August 28, 2007 — From celebrated poets to Washington College's film-noir connection to a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, the 2007-2008 Sophie Kerr Lecture Series at Washington College is rich with literary offerings open to the public.
The series 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.
The 2007-2008 Sophie Kerr Series will feature:
Poetry Reading with David Wojahn
Sophie Kerr Room, Wednesday, September 19, 4:30 p.m.
David Wojahn is the author of seven books of poetry and has been the recipient of many awards and prizes: the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, the William Carlos Williams Award and the Celia B. Wagner Award from the Poetry Society of America, Vermont College's Crowley/Weingarten Award for Excellence in Teaching, Poetry magazine's George Kent Prize and three Pushcart Prizes. This year Wojahn was one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his book Interrogation Palace His poems have appeared in The New Republic, The New Yorker, Poetry and elsewhere.
R. Barton Palmer Film Lecture, "James M. Cain and the Coen Brothers"
Sophie Kerr Room, Thursday, October 4, 4:30 p.m.
Perhaps the most famous scribe to emerge from Washington College was pioneering hardboiled author James M. Cain, who along with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler rewrote the rule book on crime fiction, creating a uniquely terse, tough American style that influenced literature, cinema and pop culture in general. As part of a two-day celebration of Cain and his legacy, the Sophie Kerr Series will present a talk by R. Barton Palmer, author ofHollywood's Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir, a standard in the field. He also is the author of a recent book on the Coen brothers' films and, interestingly, several books about medieval literature.
Poetry Reading with Josh Weiner
Sophie Kerr Room, Thursday, November 15, 4:30 p.m.
Josh Weiner is the author of two books, The World's Room and From the Book of Giants. He has won the Whiting Award and the Rome Prize. His poems appear in The New York Review of Books, Poetry, Slate, Threepenny Review and elsewhere. The poetry editor of Tikkun, Weiner is an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Huston Diehl Reading, "Dream Not of Other Worlds"
Sophie Kerr Room, Monday, February 25, 2008, 4:30 p.m.
When Huston Diehl began teaching a fourth-grade class in a "Negro" elementary school in rural Virginia, the school system's white superintendent assured her that he didn't expect her to teach "those children" anything. It was the waning days of the Jim Crow South, and Diehl soon discovered how low expectations impeded her students' ability to learn. With its overcrowded classrooms and poor facilities, her segregated school was vastly inferior to the county's white elementary schools, and the message it sent her students was clear: "Dream not of other worlds."
In her memoir Diehl reveals how her students reached out to her, a young white Northerner, and shared their fears, anxieties and personal beliefs. She reflects on what the students taught her about the hurt of bigotry and the humiliation of poverty as well as dignity, courage and resiliency.
Today, Diehl is professor of English at the University of Iowa and a widely published authority in the field of Renaissance literature. Her memoir, Dream Not of Other Worlds: Teaching in a Segregated School, 1970, chronicles an important moment in American history and the struggle to integrate schools in the South. The presentation at Washington College will be a reading from her memoir. Professor Diehl will be joined in the reading by Polly Sommerfeld, Lecturer in Drama at Washington College.
Fiction Reading with Jane Smiley
Norman James Theatre, Friday, March 28, 2008, 4 p.m.
The jewel in the crown of the Sophie Kerr Series each year is Sophie Kerr Weekend, and the keynote event of Sophie Kerr Weekend 2008 will be a much-anticipated reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley. Smiley, who holds an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, is the author of 11 novels, including A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1992. She also is the author of four books of nonfiction, includingThirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005). Her essays have been published in Vogue, The New Yorker, Harper's, the New York Times, The Nation and many other publications.
Smiley's latest novel, Ten Days in the Hills, was published earlier this year by Knopf/Random House. A re-imagining of Boccaccio's Decameron set among the Hollywood crowd in the opening days of the Iraq War in 2003, Ten Days in the Hills has enjoyed universal acclaim. "The book is generating early buzz," observed The Wall Street Journal. In a starred review,Publishers Weekly hailed the hot new novel as a "scintillating tale... Smiley delivers a delightful, subtly observant sendup of Tinseltown folly, yet she treats her characters ... with warmth and seriousness." The Philadelphia Inquirer praises the author for "delivering a Tinseltown classic." The Los Angeles Times Book Review declared the novel "a blazing farce, a fiery satire of contemporary celebrity culture and a rich, simmering meditation on the price of war and fame and desire." The Times U.K. called it a "highly entertaining yet thoughtful examination of postmillenial America."
Dubbed "the reigning master of social satire" by Elle magazine, Smiley received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 2006.
Poetry Reading with Erin Murphy
Sophie Kerr Room, Wednesday, April 9, 2008, 4 p.m.
Washington College graduate Erin Murphy (class of 1990) is the author of Dislocation and Other Theories, Science of Desire (a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize) and Too Much of This World (winner of the Anthony Piccione Poetry Prize). Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Random House's 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. Murphy has received the Foley Poetry Award, the National Writers' Union Poetry Award, a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award and a $5,000 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize.
Valerie Traub Lecture, "The Nature of Norms: Anatomy, Cartography, King Lear"
Sophie Kerr Room, Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 4:30 p.m.
Valerie Traub is professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan, where she is Director of the Women's Studies Program. Her publications include Gay Shame, The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England, Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects and Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama. Traub's essays have appeared in the GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, English Literary Renaissance, Feminist Studies, Shakespeare Quarterly, Shakespeare Studies and elsewhere. Her book in progress is Mapping Embodiment in the Early Modern Text: The Prehistory of Normality.
Admission is free to all Sophie Kerr Series events. For more information, call 410-778-7879.