2014 Johnston Summer Seminar


Learning doesn’t stop once you graduate, as participants in the Johnston Summer Seminar can attest.

From June 27 to July 4, 2014, Prof. Bill McDonald will guide a course for alumni up at the Asilomar conference center near Monterey. The seminar will focus on Lawrence Durrell’s interrelated set of four novels, The Alexandria Quartet.

“I had taught Lawrence Durrell several times in roughly the 1985 to 1995 decade, but not since,” McDonald said. “So when several alums from these earlier gatherings suggested revisiting the Quartet for our next seminar, I happily agreed; it was their idea, not mine, as, ideally, alumni events should be. At the same time the majority of those attending are reading the novels for the first time, so we'll have a good mix of perspectives.”

The 21 participants come from diverse backgrounds, with graduates from the mid-1970s to 2012, and even a rising Johnston senior. Discussions on each of the four books will be led by different alums, and those who wanted to attend but were unable to can take part via Facebook, where the class will post summaries of the day’s discussions.

“We’re visiting and revisiting a rich, challenging, controversial set of books, the pleasures of what one participant, Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, has termed ‘unsolitary reading’: talking through demanding texts with a group of trained, motivated friends,” McDonald said. “We will meet three times a day for two hours mostly to talk about the books but also to hear alum presentations on Durrell’s life, to read from a Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy, who was a major influence on the Quartet, to have fun with Quartet-related art projects organized by alum Sandie Bacon, and taste some excellent wine provided by alum winemaker Wes Hagen and myself.”

The idea for a summer seminar came about after McDonald “more or less” retired in 2005.

“I invited a group of Johnston alums to come to campus and help me plan a critical project that we would design together,” he said. “Out of that came a book on Nobel Prize-winning writer J.M. Coetzee’s novel, ‘Disgrace,’ which contained essays by many who had attended, plus several U of R faculty – Daniel Kiefer, Julie Townsend, Kathy Ogren, Kevin O’Neill.”

From there, McDonald held a seminar on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” in 2012, and Kevin O’Neill explored the topic “Representations of Death in Philosophy and Popular Culture” in 2013. All of the seminars have featured stimulating conversation in a beautiful environment.

“Asilomar is gorgeous, and is a perfect site for this academic holiday,” McDonald said.

Registration for this event is now closed.

Posted: June 13, 2014
Written by: Catherine Garcia

Thurber, an English bulldog, is the University's mascot.

He is named after Clarence Howe Thurber, University president from 1933-37.

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