About the Conference

Why This Symposium?

The Kempowski Symposium will be the first American symposium devoted to this uniquely important contemporary author. The meetings will attract nationally and internationally the attention of literary scholars, critics, and researchers, as well as social and military historians, sociologists and anthropologists, both as speakers and as discussion participants. They will come from several countries, notably Germany, her neighbors, as well as Austria, Switzerland, Canada and the USA.

The Symposium is being held in honor of the distinguished author, Walter Kempowski and his 75th birthday. The languages of the symposium will be German and English.

Kempowski’s Unique Stature

Walter Kempowski stands unique among contemporary writers. He is more than just a writer — he is the voice of several generations of Germans. He has not turned his back on the German past, but on the contrary, via his fictional and documentary works, has made known and available to the German-speaking world testimonies of thousands of persons from the ordinary to the extraordinary about their World War Two experiences. Another reason why scholars insist that this symposium needs to be held has to do with the fact that much contemporary popular German literature, created expressly for the under 30 years of age generation, preaches selfish hedonism and pop-culture, preferring to ignore the enormous human, demographic and social impact and importance of German and Austrian involvement in the most cataclysmic war of the twentieth century.

The Nature of Walter Kempowski’s Writing

Walter Kempowski’s 75th birthday in April 2004 is a fitting occasion on which to assess his life work and its impact on his wide reading public and on younger authors. This first symposium highlights Kempowski’s creative writing process and the nature of all historical writing. Kempowski’s innovative narrative technique is to witness, i.e., to make abundant direct reference to popular testimonies of history, as spoken and written by those people who have directly experienced dictatorship, war, as well as the destruction of traditional social and family structure.

Kempowski’s use of a multitude of non-traditional sources of historical information can be described as all-embracing and kaleidoscopic. He has gathered together and draws on a very large European collection of World War II letters, diaries, photographs, and autobiographies of persons who witnessed, perpetrated, and suffered the brunt of the Nazi era and the devastation of Europe.

Walter Kempowski -- A Distinguished Author

The highly popular, sometimes controversial and often acclaimed contemporary (West) German author, Walter Kempowski, belongs among the literary giants. He is the recipient of many prestigious German literary honors and continues to receive numerous distinguished literary prizes and awards, recently, the Hermann-Sinsheimer-Preis für Literatur und Publizistik in March 2003. In December 2002 he was awarded the Dedalus-Preis für Neue Literatur des Südwestrundfunks und des Ministeriums für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst, Baden-Württemberg, and in September 2002, the State of Lower Saxony honored him with the Nicolas-Born-Preis. He is not only a chronicler and archivist-historian of popular testimony to the events of modern history, he is also a writer of fiction, an autobiographer, a diarist, and a literary innovator. He also employs techniques of artists and writers of the Dada movement (collage and montage).

Further, his writing exploits modern technology's and photography's means to record in infinite detail and nuance the present and the past. Kempowski believes that the voices, words and travails of a wide spectrum of people who have lived through and experienced the brutal history of modern Europe bear witness to historical truths not found in the evaluative judgments of the “experts,” the academic historians. As with Heinrich Böll, the themes which Kempowski treats focus on the impact that daily events of the major wars of the 20th century, especially the Second World War, have had and continue to have on the German middle classes.

Aims of the Symposium

The aims of the Symposium are several: To examine and assess in depth via four days of lectures, workshops and discussions these witnessing aspects of Kempowski's oeuvre. Internationally-known Kempowski scholars will present their recent research. The teaching and learning opportunities of the Symposium will be extended by concurrently hosting a German Teachers’ Netzwerk-Seminar on the theme of didacticizing works of Kempowski for the literature class in schools, colleges and universities. Additionally, a senior undergraduate students’ workshop on Kempowski’s critical reception in the German literature class will complement the pedagogical impulses of the German teachers’ Netzwerk-Seminar. We plan to publish a Proceedings after the meetings.

The Planning Committee

The Planning Committee consists of Walter Kempowski experts Professor Dr. Jörg Drews of the Universität Bielefeld and Dr. Carla Damiano of Eastern Michigan University, who have collaborated internationally with others, defining the theme and setting up the program as shown in the website's Conference Program section. Other pivotal members of the Planning Committee are Dr. Laurence Kitching, Washtenaw Community College, and Dr. Daniel Gilfillan, Arizona State University.

The input of EMU colleagues as well as colleagues at other American, Canadian and foreign universities is gratefully acknowledged.

The Meetings: April 7-9, 2004

Meetings will take place April 7-9, 2004 under the sponsorship of Eastern Michigan University, German government agencies and American Corporate and private donors..

Eastern Michigan University’s Halle Library staff has mounted an exhibition of works of contemporary German Literature, both in German and English for the duration of the Symposium. This is made possible with the assistance and cooperation of the Goethe-Institut which has generously provided books and materials.

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