Emory Report
October 20, 2008
Volume 61, Number 8



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October 20
, 2008
Umberto Eco delights community

By Elaine Justice

As he introduced Italian scholar/author Umberto Eco for the opening of the 20th anniversary Ellmann Lectures, Joseph Skibell, associate professor of English, said Eco has his own sense of “joie de vivre.” Eco then proved that to be the case.

During his eventful three-day visit, Eco enlightened, entertained and captivated large Emory and Atlanta audiences, giving three lectures constructed with the same deft touch he brings to his novels.
“You couldn’t have had a better guest or more appreciative audiences,” said Ronald Schuchard, Goodrich C. White Professor of English and founder of the prestigious literary series.

Schuchard, who is retiring as director of the Ellmann Lectures this year (Skibell is the new director of the series), said Eco was “a most generous guest.” Not only did Eco give three lectures and a reading, he visited fourth-year Italian classes of Judy Raggi Moore and Simona Muratore “with only a last-minute notice.”
He mingled at receptions, danced to jazz at a barbeque hosted by the Wagners at Lullwater and brunched at the home of Angela Della Costanza Turner, former honorary consul of Italy for the State of Georgia and Ted Turner’s daughter-in-law.

Eco also sat with Della Costanza Turner for an Italian TV interview, and had a wide-ranging audio interview for Emory on iTunes U with Vice President and Secretary of the University Rosemary Magee, both of which he seemed to relish.

At the book signing following his reading, Eco “signed books until his hand wouldn’t work anymore,” said Schuchard. “He just talked his head off.” At 76, Eco does try to pace himself, “but carrying on many conversations from many points of view in many languages is an exhausting process,” said Schuchard. “He bore up very well.”

One of the qualities Schuchard hopes for in the Ellmann Lectures is their appeal to new audiences, and in that Eco proved a smashing success — Schuchard is still getting glowing e-mails from members of the Emory and Atlanta community.

The other measure of the lectures is something much closer to an academic’s heart. In Schuchard’s words, “it was great to see faculty members from around the University having dinner together and walking en masse to the lecture. That’s something you don’t see anywhere these days. You don’t see enough of faculty coming together to celebrate intellectual life, enjoying each other’s company and great conversation, then walking over to a lecture together. That’s one of the things I wanted the Ellmann Lectures to create, a sense of celebration of intellectual life.”