11/12/2009

Ware House Hosts Joel Agee

  • http-blogs-fandm-edu-wp-content-blogs-dir-29-files-2012-04-agee-jpg Author Joel Agee reads to students and faculty in the Ware House den.

Classical music played in the background, and the food was piping hot. Guests enjoyed good conversation in a warm, relaxed atmosphere.

As dinner began to wind down, the host made an announcement.

"There is still time for seconds before we adjourn to the living room."

In what might have been mistaken for a dinner party at a private residence, the Ware College House hosted a reading by award-winning author Joel Agee Tuesday evening in the Ware Den. Agee's appearance marked the culmination of Franklin & Marshall's observation of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which included a series of events and speakers.

Joel Eigen, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology and Ware House Don, welcomed about two dozen guests to the Ware Den, which he and Associate Dean and Senior Prefect Todd DeKay furnished and designed with evenings such as Tuesday in mind.

"This is exactly the type of evening we love to sponsor," Eigen said. "What's most important is what happens after the talk is over, when students can spend time with the speaker."

Agee, who was raised in East Germany by his mother and stepfather, read several selections of his work before answering questions from faculty and students. He began by reading from In the House of My Fear, a bold memoir that recounts his experiences in the 1960s. He also read and reflected on his columns published in The New York Times from November 1989.

"I saw the miracle on television on Nov. 9," said Agee, the son of famed Depression-era writer James Agee. "I was on the phone with my friend, who had dreams of living on the other side of the wall. He had been drinking wine and celebrating when his son called. He said, 'Can you imagine? I haven't seen him since he was 10. Joel, the only sensible thing to do is celebrate. Open a bottle and drink with us.'"

Agee also spoke about the shifting cultural landscape following the events of 1989.

"People of my generation found it very difficult to make that transition," he said. "For their children, it was a completely different story. The terms Ossi (informal name for people in East Germany) and Wessi (West Germans) only make sense to the older generation."

Agee's reading was a textbook example of the College House system in action. The guest of honor spoke with students both before and after his talk, providing an opportunity for students to ask questions in an informal setting.

"In math, you talk math, and in history, you talk history," says Phil Zabriskie '13, a Ware House resident who attended the dinner and reading. "But in the House system, you can talk in an academic way about any subject with everyone."

Eigen works hard to make such evenings possible in an effort to stimulate the intellectual development of students.

"When you have faculty, students and speakers together in a setting like this, the result is magical," he says.

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