October 21, 2010

Mythology meets science in Atwood's Ellmann lectures

From flying rabbits to burning bushes, renowned author Margaret Atwood will lead a journey into the human imagination at the 10th series of the  Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature Oct. 24-26.

Atwood’s campus visit will be a literary feast of three interrelated lectures under the canopy of mythology, “a rolling banquet,” says Joseph Skibell, director of the Ellmann Lectures and associate professor of English.

The award-winning author of more than 35 volumes of poetry, nonfiction and fiction including “The Handmaid’s Tale” and most recently “The Year of the Flood,” Atwood is known for exploring topical, timely subjects of universal concern.

Skibell recalls meeting Atwood for cup of coffee in Toronto last summer.  “She was astonishingly brilliant in conversation — wry, tart, funny, with penetrating intelligence. And I think her lecture series is going to be that writ large.”

She is expected to speak about the tools of her trade — science fiction and speculative fantasy, says Skibell.

Much of the author’s work explores the implications of recent developments in science and technology. For students in Benjamin Reiss’ English class, who are studying Atwood this semester, “this presents a wonderful opportunity to think about what role literature and the humanities might play in thinking one’s way into the future,” says Reiss.

The students, many of whom are volunteering for the Ellmann Lectures and related public events, are looking forward to Atwood’s visit to their class.

“What I think students can get from meeting any extraordinarily accomplished and gifted person is a sense of what it’s like to commit your life passionately to developing your talent, and allowing it to unfold,” says Reiss.

Hearing from Atwood will provide an inside look at creativity, rather than simply an examination of its final product, he adds.

The Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature were established in honor of Richard Ellmann (1918-1987), Emory’s first Robert W. Woodruff Professor. The selection of Margaret Atwood – chosen by an international selection committee – continues Ellmann’s legacy to speak to literary-minded audiences in jargon-free language, says Skibell.

All Ellmann lecturers debut original talks at Emory. Their Emory lectures permanently reside in Manuscript, Archive and Rare Book Library, and the biennial series is published for Emory by Harvard University Press.  Older titles from past Ellmann Lectures are available at the bookstore, adds Skibell.

Organizers hope to endow the lecture series, which is considered among the most prominent in North America. 

“In this day of shrinking resources we want to work to protect this stellar and noble tradition,” says Skibell.

“It has an illustrious 20-year history,” he adds, “and I want to make sure it continues for at least the next 20 years, and beyond.”

Schedule of events

Sunday, Oct. 24
Lecture: “Flying Rabbits,” 4 p.m., Glenn Auditorium
Public Reception, 5 p.m., Glenn Lawn

Monday, Oct. 25
Lecture: "Burning Bushes," 8:15 pm, Glenn Auditorium

Tuesday, Oct. 26
Lecture: “Dire Cartographies,” 4 p.m., Glenn Auditorium
Reading: 8:15 p.m., Glenn Auditorium
Booksigning: 9:15 p.m., Glenn Auditorium

Tickets are free, but required, and must be picked up in person at the Arts at Emory Box Office.

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