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Exploring the Literary World of William H. Gass

Portrait of William Gass by Ulf Peter Hallberg

In the fall of 2015, William H. Gass Fellow Matthias Göritz and Ignacio Infante, an associate professor of comparative literature and Spanish, were discussing the idea of having a symposium on William H. Gass, one that would focus on the esteemed writer and critic’s contributions in literary translation and his role in promoting international writing.

That discussion quickly gained momentum, and now, with the help of other campus partners and an array of international writers and poets, their idea will come to fruition.

On Friday, Sept. 23, Washington University Libraries, the Committee on Comparative Literature, the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, and the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities will co-sponsor the William H. Gass Symposium: International Writing.

Gass taught at Washington University for 30 years and in 1990 became the co-founder and first director of Washington University’s International Writers Center (IWC) in Arts & Sciences — now known as the Center for the Humanities. Gass retired from the University as the David May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities in 1999.

He is the author of several books, including Omensetter’s Luck (1966), In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories (1968), The World Within the Word (1978), The Tunnel (1995), Reading Rilke (1999), A Temple of Texts (2006), Middle C (2013), and Eyes (2015).

“I admire Gass as an essayist, translator, and storyteller; I admire him as a teacher,” Göritz said when he accepted the William H. Gass Fellowship in 2014.   “My colleagues across the globe and I see him as a legend. After reading his work, people are ‘infected’ and changed. It’s simple: we have to read William Gass; otherwise we’ve missed the best.”

Washington University alumna Susan Bernofsky, this year’s William H. Matheson lecturer, will present the keynote address, “Translating in Rhythm, with Gass.” Bernofsky is an award-winning translator of German language literature and director of the Literary Translation program in the MFA Writing Program at Columbia University.

As part of the symposium, poet Mary Jo Bang and Göritz will read Gass’s Rilke translations. Bang, who has taught in the English department since 2000, is the author of widely acclaimed poetry collections and a translation of Dante’s Inferno.

The symposium will also feature talks; a roundtable discussion with Lorin Cuoco, co-founder of the International Writers Center, and Stephen Schenkenberg, editor of “The Ear’s Mouth Must Move: Essential Interviews of William H. Gass”; poetry readings by members of the PhD track in Comparative Literature for International Writers; a reception; and an exhibit from WU Libraries’ Special Collections department on the IWC. The Libraries are home to the IWC Archive.

The exhibition, called “The International Writers Center: Read Globally, Act Locally” is on display in the staircase foyer of Olin Library and will be on view through Sept. 28. Additional materials from the IWC will also be on view during the symposium and online.

The symposium events will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Umrath Lounge in Umrath Hall and at Olin Library. They are free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register for the symposium, go here.


Friday, September 23, Umrath Hall, Umrath Lounge

9:00 a.m.                     Coffee

9:15 a.m.                     Welcome remarks by Professor Lynne Tatlock

9:30 a.m.                     Papers by William H. Gass Fellow Matthias Göritz and Ignacio Infante, associate professor of Comparative Literature and Spanish at Washington University

10:30 – 11:00 a.m.       Coffee break

11:00 a.m.                   Roundtable discussion with Lorin Cuoco, co-founder of the International Writers Center in St. Louis, and Stephen Schenkenberg, creator of the blog “Reading William Gass” and editor of “The Ear’s Mouth Must Move: Essential Interviews of William H. Gass”

12:30 – 2:00 p.m.         Lunch, on your own

2:00 – 3:30 p.m.          Keynote address “Translating in Rhythm, with Gass,” by Professor Susan Bernofsky, Columbia University

Friday, September 23, Olin Library, Room 142 and Special Collections

4:00 – 5:00 p.m.         Reception and exhibit on the International Writers Center Archive

5:00 – 6:00 p.m.         Opening remarks by Professor Gerhild Williams, reading of the International Writers Center mission statement, readings of William H. Gass’s Rilke translations by poet Mary Jo Bang and German poet and novelist Matthias Göritz, and readings by Latvian poet and translator Kārlis Vērdiņš and Slovenian poet and critic Katja Perat