Monday, January 21, 2008

Furst Up: Washington College's 2007-2008 Sophie Kerr Series Continues with Acclaimed Author/Playwright

Chestertown, MD — The 2007-2008 Sophie Kerr Lecture Series at Washington College continues with a reading by Joshua Furst, one of the most exciting writers on the current New York literary scene, in the Sophie Kerr Room on Tuesday, February 5, at 4:30 p.m.

Furst's reading kicks off three months' worth of dynamic Sophie Kerr Series literary offerings, including poetry, memoirs, and a reading by a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

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.

Joshua Furst's critically acclaimed book of stories, Short People, was described by the Miami Herald as "a near magical collection." The Los Angeles Times called it "startling . . . a thoughtful if disturbing portrait of what it means to be a child. Or, more to the point, what it means to be human." And the Times of London raved, "Any one of these stories is enough to break your heart. . . . Joshua Furst's debut is both enjoyable and important."

Furst also is the author of the novel The Sabotage Café and many cutting-edge plays. From 1993 through 1998, he was an active participant in the New York alternative theatre scene. Among other accomplishments in this field, he helped organize and run Nada Theatre's 1995 Obie Award-winning Faust Festival and was one of the producers of the 1998 New York RAT conference, which brought experimental theatre artists from across the United States together for a week of performance and symposia.

Furst's plays include "Whimper," "Myn" and "The Ellipse and Other Shapes." They have been produced by numerous theatres, both in the United States and abroad.

Admission to Furst's Feb. 5 reading is free and open to the public. The Sophie Kerr Room is located in Washington College's Clifton S. Miller Library. After Furst's appearance, the 2007-2008 Sophie Kerr Series will continue with the following offerings:

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.

January 21, 2008

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