Talking books online, with Penn alumni and parents of Penn students

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The fearless and fabulous Al Filreis, who (with his finely chosen cohorts) makes the world of the Kelly Writers House (at the University of Pennsylvania) turn, has recently posted this year's roster of online book discussion groups, which are conducted for Penn alumni and the parents of Penn students.  Those of you who might fall into either category should take a look at what is being offered here, which, in Al's words, "include a month-long group led by English professor Jim English on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go; Emily Steiner, distinguished medievalist, leading a discussion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; a 10-day group on Nabokov's Lolita; others on writing about food, Edward Albee's plays, on anonymity and the internet, and the literature of bearing witness led by an award-winning Penn alumna writer."

I happen to be the Penn alumna writer conducting the discussion group on the literature of bearing witness, a full description of which is here:

In "Accident and Its Scene: Reflections on the Death of John Gardner," (Writing into the World), the exquisite essayist Terrence Des Pres reconstructs the death of John Gardner—a motorcycle accident, or was it an accident?—along a lonesome road (or was it lonesome?). In "Memory and Imagination" (I Could Tell You Stories), Patricia Hampl tells a story, several times, about learning to play the piano. The facts keep changing because Hampl's memory does, because memory is a tortuous bend; it is never, in Hampl's words, "just memory."

The past is loaded. Memory shifts. Yet we live in a world in which honesty matters. We want to believe the stories we tell ourselves. We want to believe one another. In this on-line discussion, we'll be exploring the perils of bearing witness with Des Pres and Hampl as our guide.

 I hope those of you who may be Penn folk and interested in any of the groups will get involved.  We're going to have fun.


dstanton said...

I interviewed Gardner at Bread Loaf the month before he died; Des Pres was also there, an intense and wise observer. A few months later, after John's death, I ran into Terrence at the Strand in NYC; we talked about Gardner -- was there any kind of wish to die there? As a motorcycle rider, Des Pres had strong opinions about the tendency for non-riders to see all motorcyclists as suicidal. I sent Terrence my Gardner interview piece, which he critiqued and also praised -- made me very proud. We corresponded about my reading of Stone's "A Flag for Sunrise" (he basically said I was bourgeois), and he later sent me an offprint of the Gardner piece. It is a shame that we could not have had more of Des Pres's brilliant writing. -- Dave Stanton

Beth Kephart said...

Dear Dave Stanton,

I have tried to figure out how to reach you personally, but have failed, and so, on the off chance that you return to this posting, thank you for this. Des Pres is one of my very favorite writers, and his early loss pains me greatly. It's wonderful that you knew him in person.

Sherry said...

I recently finished reading, The Handmaid's Tale, and this post reminds me of the chapter of a few "reconstructions" of her memory as she retold what happened. Loved that.

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