September 20, 2004
Acclaimed New Yorker magazine staff writer and Cowell alumnus
to speak at UCSC
By Scott Rappaport
For the past two decades, longtime New Yorker magazine
staff writer and UCSC alumnus Lawrence Weschler has written
about unexpected relationships between art, culture, war, and
Lawrence Weschlers latest book, Vermeer In Bosnia, was published in July 2004.
Drawing: David Hockney
On Friday, September 24, the 1974 Cowell College graduate will
return to the UCSC campus to speak on the topic: Serenity
and Terror in Vermeer, and After, based on his most recent
book, Vermeer in Bosnia. The event takes place at 8 p.m.
in the Cowell College Conference Room. Admission is free and
open to the public.
Vermeer in Bosnia is a collection of 22 stories written
for the New Yorker and a variety of other publications.
The title piece includes reports on the Yugoslav War Crimes
Tribunal in 1995 and its connection to 17th-century Dutch artist
Johannes Vermeer--who due to a youth spent living in a Europe
as war-torn as Bosnia, had to invent the very peace and serenity
prized in his paintings.
Vermeer in Bosnia also includes stories on three Polish
survivors of World War IIfilm director Roman Polanski,
newspaperman Jerzy Urban, and cartoonist Art Spiegelmans
father; pieces about Weschlers grandfather, composer Ernst
Toch; and several takes on artists and their inspirations, such
as David Hockneys photo collages, Robert Irwins
youth, and Ed Weinbergers furniture design/philosophy.
Weschler is the author of 10 previous books including Mr.
Wilsons Cabinet of Wonder, which was short-listed
for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle
Award. Currently the director of the New York Institute for
the Humanities at NYU, he is a widely honored political and
cultural journalist and a regular contributor to such publications
as McSweenys, Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, Threepenny
Review, and National Public Radio.
Weschler initiated the UCSC visit to coincide with a September
West Coast book tour. He has made a point over the years of
keeping in touch with Cowell College and his former teachers
such as associate professor of philosophy Robert Goff, literature
professor emeritus Harry Berger, biology professor emeritus
Todd Newberry, and American studies professor emeritus John
The ambition and breadth of Weschlers writing was
already present when he was a student, said Goff. He
won the Chancellors Essay Prize three or four times in
succession. He was known among his teachers as someone who would
make connections across fields; he would seek people out for
new ideas, no matter what their specialty was.
Goff noted that it was due to Weschlers influence in
1985 that famed neurologist/writer Oliver Sacks accepted a position
as a Regents Professor at Cowell College. Sackss
first popular book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,
had just been published, and he taught a seminar about it at
UCSC. In the early 1990s, Weschler himself returned to the campus
as a Regents Lecturer, offering an abbreviated course
through Cowell College on how to read a newspaper.
Hes always looking for new sources and is a great
encourager of writers, Goff observed. He is now
a contributing editor of Dave Eggerss McSweenys,
an exciting new literary periodical.
Weschlers effect is catalytic, Goff added.
When you talk to him or read his work, it makes you want
to do things differently.
The most common thread in nearly every description of Weschler
is the profound impact his writing has had on people, both emotionally
and intellectually. As San Francisco magazine writer
Pamela Feinsilber recently put it:
Weschler to me is like Ray Charles; he puts his own soulful
stamp on anything that beckons him, and something moves me in
almost everything he does.
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