To Hofstra’s resident novelists, poets and playwrights, the University’s Great Writers, Great Readings series is many things.
It is a source of inspiration for students and a way to highlight and improve an already strong creative writing program. It has helped to foster a campus community of writers and those who care about good writing, and it is a means to give back to the larger community. In the past two years, students, staff, faculty and the public have had the chance to listen to authors Jamaica Kincaid, Cynthia Ozick and Haruki Murakami, poets Louise Gluck, William S. Mervin and Charles Simic, and playwrights Kenneth Lonergan and Donald Margulies.
As wonderful as it is to sit back and hear the words of a poem or play or novel written as the writer fashioned them, the series, now in its second year, is much more than that. An important component is the interaction between the writers and Hofstra students, particularly during smaller classroom sessions when students have the opportunity to ask questions.
“It is in that give and take that you get a chance to see the humanity, the fallibility of the writers, their own struggles. Their responses tend to be very candid and the process of writing becomes demystified,” said Hofstra English professor and essayist Phillip Lopate, who coordinates and helped to create the series. “The students see that the writers are struggling just as they are.”
Many attribute the series’ success to the administration’s drive to build a strong creative writing program by bringing to the University a number of established writers, including playwright Erik Brogger, poet Phillis Levin, novelists Julia Markus and Martha McPhee, and Phillip Lopate. They, in turn, helped bring to Hofstra the participants in Great Writers, Great Readings.
“We realized that if we were ever to build a notable graduate series we needed to have people coming in who were important writers,” Dr. Lopate said. “And also we wanted to establish that link for all our students that writing wasn’t just something that occurred in the canon; that it was a daily practice. It was a living. There is only so much you can do by getting students to read Melville and Emily Dickinson. We wanted real live writers to come in and model the writing life.”
The series, which received wide support from faculty and staff, has continued this year with National Book Award winner and poet Jean Valentine; short story author Edward P. Jones, whose first novel, The Known World, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction; and novelist Jonathan Franzen.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I could see by the first reading, and it was confirmed by the second and third, that this was such a gift to students and also to the community,” said Professor Levin, who requires her students to attend the readings. “It makes an already strong creative writing series that much more excellent.”
The series has also had a ripple effect all across the University. “It creates communities on campus not only for students who want to be writers but for students and faculty who care about literature,” she said. “To be present and hear living voices of great writers; I’ve seen the energy and I believe in it.”
Professor Levin said it is through their questions to the writers, particularly in the more intimate master classes, that the students come to realize that there is no one formula for success as a writer. “To hear the differences in the way people work and to be able to have courage to ask them questions I think makes the experience of writing much more accessible,” she said.
Professor Levin used the examples of Glück, who told students she sometimes didn’t write for as long as two years, and Murakami, who set a goal for himself to write five short stories in five weeks, to illustrate how different the writing process can be.
“One of most amazing things I’ve seen my students get is that every writer has their own process,” she said. “There is no right way or wrong way to do that and when you’re young you don’t understand that. You think there’s one way to do it.”
Professor Brogger said he, too, witnessed that understanding coming to his students during a visit by fellow playwright Kenneth Lonergan. “My students had an opportunity to listen to him talk about how he handled some of the challenges he faced. It took the whole celebrity angle off of what he does and it brought a person into the room who faces some of the same challenges they face. It put a human face on someone we discussed in class.”
It is through those interactions with the writers that the students come to understand the writing life, he said. “Somehow people seem to assume once someone is in print that all of the challenges and all of the problems of writing fall away, and they’re disabused of those fantasies very quickly in a really wonderful way.”
“We’ve had students challenge the writers and ask them why they are so preoccupied with certain things.” Professor Lopate said. “Murakami attracted a huge audience, and he talked about how he loved jazz and baseball and didn’t think of himself as an intellectual. He ran the marathon.”
Still, there is no taking away from the pure experience of hearing a writer read his or her own work. “You can get a much greater insight when you hear a writer reading his or her work aloud than just reading it on page,” he said. “You discover the underlying rhythms and the level of irony the writer intended.”.
Charles B. Anderson, adjunct associate professor of English, is the author of American Conversations, published in early 2005. The book is an anthology of interviews with such luminaries as Charlie Rose, A.M. Rosenthal, Peter Jennings, Art Garfunkel, Phyllis Whitney and others.
Jacques Berlinerblau, associate professor of comparative literature and languages and director of Jewish studies, saw the publication of his book The Secular Bible: Why Non-Believers Must Take Religion Seriously in the summer of 2005. The book, an exploration of the Hebrew Bible and its impact on current political debates, sold out of its first printing in three weeks and went back into press for a rushed second printing.
Alafair Burke, associate professor of law, published the third in her Samantha Kincaid series of mystery novels in summer 2005. Close Case looks at the murder of a popular investigative reporter and liaison to the Portland, Oregon, minority community, who’s found bludgeoned to death after a protest over a police shooting with racial overtones. Sam Kincaid finds herself in professional and personal turmoil as the investigation progresses.
Arthur Dobrin, professor and teaching fellow, School for University Studies, published a book in 2004 titled Seeing Through Africa, a memoir of his and his wife’s experiences in Kenya, first as Peace Corps workers and years later as visitors to the region. He has three more titles slated for publication in 2006: Good for Business – Ethics in the Marketplace; The Lost Art of Happiness; and a collection of poetry, Dreams Are Not As Beautiful.
James Levy, assistant professor and teaching fellow, School for University Studies, has published his second book, Appeasement & Rearmament: Britain, 1936-1939. The book is a synthesis of current scholarship on the military, financial, and industrial conditions that made Britain’s dual policies of diplomatic engagement and gradual military preparedness an absolute strategic imperative during the period discussed. Britain’s rational means were, however, eventually trumped by Hitler’s irrational ends. Appeasement & Rearmament effectively serves as a prequel to Professor Levy’s earlier The Royal Navy’s Home Fleet in World War II (Palgrave, 2003).
Phillip Lopate, the John Cranford Adams Chair in the Humanities, edited American Movie Critics: From the Silents Until Now. This anthology charts the rise of movies as art, industry, and mass entertainment. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be used to support the mission of The Library of America, a nonprofit organization created in 1979 to preserve America’s literary heritage by publishing and keeping permanently in print authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing.
Julia Markus, professor of English and freshman composition, published J. Anthony Froude: The Last Undiscovered Great Victorian. From his birth in 1818 to his death in 1894, J. Anthony Froude embodied the issues and complexities of his time. Through the story of Froude’s life, Dr. Markus focuses on the major ideological issues of the 19th century — sexuality, colonialism, and the widespread challenges to religion’s long-held cultural primacy.
Martha McPhee, assistant professor of English and creative writing, saw the publication of L’America this spring. In the brilliant Greek sunshine of a small Aegean island, a romance blossoms between Cesare, a cosseted Italian boy raised in a prosperous town where his family has lived for 500 years, and Beth, an ambitious American dreamer born to hippies and raised on a commune. The events of September 11 serve as a catalyst for the unfolding of their love story. Professor McPhee also had an essay included in the anthology I Married My Mother-In-Law, edited by Ilena Silverman. An excerpt from Professor McPhee’s essay was published in the January 2006 issue of Self magazine.
Fugen Neziroglu, associate professor of psychology, joins fellow Hofstra alumnae and colleagues Dr. Merry McVey and Dr. Sony Khemlani in the publication of When Your Child Is Cutting: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Overcome Self-Injury, released this spring. This is the first handbook for parents to be written on this difficult subject. In 2004 Dr. Neziroglu published Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding: Why You Save & How You Can Stop. In the book Dr. Neziroglu differentiates between people who collect things and those with a serious disorder. Dr. Neziroglu, who completed both her undergraduate and graduate studies at Hofstra, is a behavior and cognitive therapist involved in the research and treatment of anxiety disorders and depression for more than 25 years.
Ruth Prigozy, professor of English and freshman composition, will see the publication of The Life of Dick Haymes: No More Little White Lies (Hollywood Legends Series) in spring 2006. One of the most popular male vocalists of the 1940s, Dick Haymes is often considered to have had the best baritone voice of the 20th century.
Kimberly Scott, associate professor of foundations, leadership and policy studies, has published a groundbreaking book titled Kids in Context: The Sociological Study of Children and Childhoods. Professor Scott and co-author Sarane Spense Boocock, professor emeritus of sociology at Rutgers University, traveled around the world, speaking with children to better understand the changing world in which we live. Kids in Context examines how children behave and interact with others at school, home and in peer group settings and explains how their lives impact or set global trends. The book is part of the new and growing field of the sociology of children and childhood, which has been compared to that of the women’s studies boom in the 20th century.
Daniel Varisco, professor and chair of anthropology and director of the Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Program, addresses a variety of timely issues in his 2005 book Islam Obscured: The Rhetoric of Anthropological Representation. Topics include the misuse of academic experts in broadcast discussions about Islam; whether there is one Islam or many Islams; and the academic study of Islam in light of recent postmodern and postcolonial critique.