Bernard F. Rodgers, Jr

Bernard F. Rodgers, Jr

 

Bernard F. Rodgers, Jr. is the Emily H. Fisher Professor of Literature at Bard College at Simon’s Rock.  A member of the National Book Critics Circle and PEN, and a consulting editor of the journal Philip Roth Studies, he is the author of Philip Roth: A Bibliography (1974; revised and expanded 1984), Philip Roth (1978), and Voices and Visions: Selected Essays (2001), and the editor of Critical Insights: John Updike (2011) and Critical Insights: Salman Rushdie (forthcoming in 2012). His essays and reviews on modern and contemporary American literature and culture— as well as writers such as Rushdie, Kundera, Appelfeld, Milosz, and McEwan—have been published in The Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual , Critique, Chicago Review, The Chicago Tribune, Illinois Issues, Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations of Portnoy’s Complaint, Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny (Warsaw), MELUS, Philip Roth Studies, The World & I, Magill’s Literary Annual, Magill’s Survey of World Literature, Magill’s Book Reviews, Masterplots II and IV, and The Berkshire Eagle, and been broadcast on WBBM-AM and WNIB-FM in Chicago. He has also served in administrative posts, including special assistant to the chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago and dean of academic affairs at Simon’s Rock; from 1987 to 2004, he was a vice president of Bard College and the dean of the college at Simon’s Rock.

 

Although it has now been thirty-one years since my Fulbright at UMCS—I ended my stay a month or so before the summer 1980 strikes in Lublin and Gdansk began the decade of challenge and change that culminated in 1989—my memories of Poland and the university are still very vivid and precious to me.  Most powerful, of course, are my memories of the people.  Of the bright young colleagues, then at the beginning of their careers, whom I have never forgotten—especially Jurek and Joanna Durczak and Jurek Kutnik—whose intelligence, wit, kindness, and generosity made the year a personal and professional joy.  Of the students I came to know, whose desire to learn more about American literature and culture was voracious and wide-ranging, and whose eagerness and liveliness made teaching there a special pleasure.  And of the many kind and warm people I didn’t even know, with whom I shared standing in lines outside of shops, riding trains and buses, and cigarettes.  Then there are the many images: of the orientation my group of Fulbrighters was given in our first weeks in Poland, which took us to Warsaw, Krakow, Jadwisien (sp?), and Zakopane; of visiting other cities such as Lodz and Gdansk; of the little garden plots people kept down the road from our apartment; of late night conversations with colleagues and students in our apartment.  And, most haunting and touching, of standing on the balcony at the rear of that apartment, which looked out on a cemetery, stunned to silence and tears at dusk on All Saints Day by the sight of the hundreds of candles people quietly carried as they came to honor their dead.

I went to Poland because I wanted to see the country and the part of the world from which three of my grandparents came, and because my interest in Eastern European literature had been aroused by the series “Writers from the Other Europe” that Philip Roth edited for Penguin.  I came back more connected and interested than ever. I still teach a course on those writers—in which I regularly revisit the work of Schulz, Borowski, Konwicki, Milosz, Herbert, Szymborska, and others with my students; and I continue to follow events in Poland, and histories of the region, with particular interest.  (This spring I read–and heartily recommend—Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, which told me things about Polish history that I wish I’d known before I went there; and Timothy Garton Ash’s latest collection of essays, Facts Are Subversive, in which he continues the insightful reports on the region that he has been making for more than two decades.)  When I came to Poland in 1979, access to books in English was so difficult that I brought several trunkloads of them with me to make sure my students would have the texts I wanted them to read.  Today, I know, all that has changed, as has people’s ability to travel freely throughout the world.  But my guess is that UMCS’s Departments of American Literature & Culture, and American Studies, remain an island populated by faculty and students of broad curiosity and serious intellectual ambition, of passionate and engaged readers and thinkers who still make it a special, and extraordinary, place.  Some day, I hope to return and see that for myself.

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