|Professor Peter Rollberg has successfully “manufactured” a literature in the person of Alexandra Fisher, BA '12, a former RGSLL undergraduate student. He has often said that good teaching does not depend on encyclopedic knowledge but rather an ability to communicate the knowledge and teach the analytical skills required for the subject. Professor Rollberg got a chance to prove this by way of Ms. Fisher who started teaching Russian language at GW last year. She gained experience running language institutes at the University of Pittsburgh’s respected summer Slavic Program. Professor Rollberg followed her career after her 2012 graduation from GW and after meeting with Ms. Fisher was instantly convinced that she could handle both Russian literature and film. He carefully scripted her syllabus. But he found that lockstep guidance was unneeded, as Ms. Fisher arrived at professional GTA competence in a matter of weeks. It’s one thing to mentor; it’s another to conjure a teacher.|
Last year’s Honey W. Nashman Award for Faculty Engagement confirmed that Professor Perillán’s efforts have spread word of our Spanish program’s activities far beyond the 5th-floor corridor of Phillips Hall. So does the [email protected] Students’Award for best faculty member of the year. These efforts also produced scholarship money for two undergraduate students.
Professor Abdourahman Waberi
In 1998 Abdourahman Waberi, then a 32-year-old novelist and poet, embarked on a mission to Rwanda with 10 African authors and filmmakers. It was just four years after the devastating genocide in which thousands of the country's Hutu ethnic majority unleashed unspeakable violence mostly on the Tutsi minority. In only 100 days, nearly one million people perished.
Waberi, now an assistant professor of French and Francophone literature at Columbian College, went to Rwanda in part to open the eyes of the international community, but mostly to listen to witnesses of the massacre. A native of Djibouti, Waberi felt compelled “to mourn with the Rwandan people, to show them compassion and solidarity,” he said. He visited traumatized survivors in their homes—and unapologetic perpetrators in their prison cells.
But when he sat down to piece through the harrowing notes he’d collected, he was reminded of German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno’s dictum on “the impossibility of writing about Auschwitz.” How do you tell the story of an atrocity, Waberi asked himself, without trivializing peoples’ pain?
“Language remains inadequate in accounting for the world and all its turpitudes, words can never be more than unstable crutches,” Waberi said. “And yet, if we want to hold on to a glimmer of hope in the world, the only miraculous weapons we have at our disposal are these same clumsy supports.”
After another mission to Rwanda in 1999, Waberi was ready to begin his book Harvest of Skulls, a genre-bending mix of fiction, journalism and poetry which he originally wrote in 2000 but was released in English for the first time in 2016. And, despite the passage of time, the voices of the people he met—from grief-stricken mothers to machete-toting teenagers—still resonant in his life and his work. “My trips had a huge impact on me, both artistically and emotionally,” Waberi said. “They made me a better man and a better writer.”
Returns and Departures
Even before traveling to Rwanda, Waberi’s writing was interwoven with Africa and his native Djibouti, a tiny nation nestled in the Horn of Africa between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. He grew up poor in a “shantytown.” Few people in his village were literate. By age 10, Waberi was paid in candy to draft neighbors’ lover letters and job applications. He was just 12 when Djibouti declared its independence from France in 1977.
Critical of Djibouti’s authoritarian regime—President Ismail Omar Guelleh has been cited by Human Rights Watch for abuses such as denying freedom of speech and suppressing political opposition—Waberi today considers himself an exile from his own country. He left in 1985 to study in France and hasn’t returned since 2007. Not all of books are readily available in Djibouti and he worries that if he enters the country to see his mother, he might be jailed for his outspokenness. Still, Waberi felt a literary obligation to write about his homeland. His novels like Transit and Passage of Tears explore his personal feelings of displacement. “My books are filled with returns and departures,” he said.
Waberi had completed a trio of novels about Djibouti when he first traveled to Rwanda with the team of African artists. For two months, he “immersed, shared and mourned” with Rwandans who were willing to talk about the horrors they'd seen. Not everyone was forthcoming. For many, the wounds were too fresh. Others challenged Waberi. “They said to me: ‘Now you want to write my story? Where were you four years ago?’”
In Harvest of Skulls, Waberi set out to represent a full portrait of the genocide, capturing the stories of the victims alongside the murderers. He “lightly fictionalized” his real life encounters, he said. In one chapter, he described an old widowed woman who named her dog Minuar, after the French name for the United Nations peacekeeping mission she said “failed to protect us.” The dog “fattened up on human flesh during the genocide,” Waberi writes, even feasting on the bodies of slaughtered family members. At Rilima prison, Waberi spoke to genocidaires (“those who commit genocide”) who justified their killings as acts of war. “We found them to be accusatory and punctilious in the way an American attorney can be,” he recalled. “They were determined, assured in their position and didn’t sound the slightest bit penitent.”
Since leaving Rwanda, Waberi has received numerous awards and honors. In 2005, he was chosen one of the “50 Writers of the Future” by the French literary magazine Lire. He recently received the prestigious "Chevalier" Order of Arts and Letter Medal from the French Culture Minister. His writing has been translated into 10 languages. Harvest of Skulls is his fifth book to appear in English. His most recent works—a novel about writer and activist Gil Scot Heron and a new volume of poetry—will be translated later this year. Since coming to Columbian College in 2013 to teach Francophone literature, Waberi’s classroom has been a forum for discussions relating to philosophy and the global view. “I have had the privilege of crisscrossing the world and sharing my words, thoughts and emotions with the amazing students of this fabulous institution,” he said. He is encouraged by the recent emergence of African novelists—from Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of Americanah) and Chigozie Obioma (The Fisherman) to Ethiopia’s Dinaw Mengestu (All Our Names)—and applauds what he predicts is a shift in the epicenter of the literary world. “Maybe the next great novel isn’t coming from Vienna, Venice or Valencia, but from Nairobi, Lagos or Dakar,” he said.
Still, the legacy of Rwanda weighs on him. Looking back, he continues to worry that his writing didn’t do justice to the emotional gravity of the tragedy. “It’s not only an issue of artistic failure. It's also something you cannot overcome psychologically,” he said. But he’s heartened by Rwandan writers and artists who have since produced their own works about the dark era in their country’s history.
“Maybe what I did was only to put down a first layer of ink, but that first layer may have given tools to Rwandans to talk about these events.”
This article originally appeared in the CCAS Spotlight newsmagazine.
Lynn Westwater received, together with her colleague Meredith Ray, a $190,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant in the 2016-2017 academic year. During the fellowship leave, Professors Ray and Westwater translated and wrote the critical apparatus for two devotional works of the Venetian nun and political dissident Arcangela Tarabotti (1604-1652), volumes that are part of their larger interest in early modern women's devotional literature. These two texts, Convent Paradise (originally published 1643) and Lament for Regina Donà (originally published 1650), are slated for publication in The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe series, pending review. This work was also supported by a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. She also co-edited the publication Ippolita Maria Sforza: Duchess and Hostage in Renaissance Naples: Letters and Orations (ACMRS Publications, 2017).
Abdourahman Waberi received the "Chevalier" Order of Arts and Letter Medal from the French Culture Minister. He also hosted a discussion at the NeMLA March 2017 Conference. He published the book Harvest of Skulls (Indiana University Press, 2017). He authored the following articles for Le Monde: “Happy Kwanzaa, Mr. Trump!”; “Lumière sur l’histoire du colonialisme allemand, une première à Berlin”; “Imaginary speech by Donald Trump"' "I love Africa and Africa adore me”; “And tomorrow, Indafrique?”; "Black Negroes to the Black Panthers, the history of self-defense can inspire Africa”; “A graphic novel continues the investigation into the assassination of Judge Bernard Borrel”; and “Who was afraid of Fred Hampton?" He was quoted by Radio France Internationale (online) in the articles “Abdourahman Waberi: "Djiboutian history is tragic.”
Masha Belenky and Kathryn Kleppinger co-edited the book French Cultural Studies for the Twenty-First Century (University of Delaware Press, 2017).
Sergio Waisman authored the article “Fue lo que siempre quería leer, escuchar y escribir” for La Nación, “On translating Piglia” for the Buenos Aires Herald and “Piglia in Translation” for Latin American Literature Today.
Peter Rollberg was quoted by El Universal in the article “El poderoso embajador ruso que complica al gobierno de Trump.”
Hannah M. Weckstein, is an outstanding student who has been enrolled in three upper division Spanish literature courses taught by Professor Manuel Cuellar since the fall of 2016. She has actively participated in each course, sharing her knowledge and music while working with various Latinx communities in D.C. and her experience abroad in Chile. Hannah’s dexterity in Spanish derives from a profound understanding of how language works, not only linguistically but also, and perhaps more importantly, culturally. Over the last year and a half, Professor Cuellar has witnessed the development of her linguistic skills in the various projects she has undertaken, from classroom presentations to service learning activities. By learning Spanish, she has come to understand the cultural intricacies embedded in any form of verbal and written communication.
3/1/18: Audra Simpson, Columbia University, author of Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, 6 p.m., Gelman Library, Teamsters Room 702
4/19/18: Jared Sexton, UC Irvine, author of Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism, 6 p.m., Gelman Library, Teamsters Room 702
Dzhalal Agakishiev, BS ’16, is currently in his gap year before medical school and working in the Wilmer Eye Institute. He has not given up on his German studies and took some German courses the year after graduation.
Catherine Anania, BA ’14, interned with an NGO in Morocco after graduating and is currently a first-year medical student.
Erin (Rauch) Ardon, BA ’05, currently works for a privately-owned German medical device company as an organization development project manager in Los Angeles. She is also currently pursuing her master's in organization development and change management.
Joel Block, BA ’68, received a PhD in French and Romance Philology. He no longer teaches, but he remembers how much he was inspired by James Burks, who he heard sadly has passed away.
Karen Breiner-Sanders, PhD ’80, retired as associate professor emerita after 34 years at Georgetown University and now lives in southwest Florida. She continues to work around the world for academic & government agencies as a proficiency tester-trainer in English and Spanish.
Alexandra Drexler, BA ’16, has been deeply involved in transatlantic relations since graduation. She works as a policy advisor in the German Bundestag and serves on the executive board of the American Bundestag Network.
Jason Dumont, BA ’07, lives in the Sacramento area with his wife and two children. He works as a public affairs consultant for California State Controller Betty Yee, the chief fiscal officer for the world's sixth-largest economy.
Courtney Fell, BA ’03, taught Spanish at the University of Colorado Boulder after receiving a masters in Spanish literature from UCLA. She is now a learning experience designer and works to improve the student experience at CU.
Marianna “Masha” Freydlin, BA ’05, is living in NYC and teaching English as a new language in the public school system. She is always looking to collaborate with other educators and people looking to work with immigrant youth.
Elliott Kaduck, BA ’14, has come back from a three-year stint in Moscow, Russia. Now he's working full time at American Councils!
Kimberly (Sue) Knight Wayland, BA ’78, works for a local construction company as corporate counsel. In this role, she uses her foreign language capability, specifically Spanish, in working with install crews and immigration and labor relations issues.
Katherine Kucharski, BA ’15, is currently pursuing her master's degree in security studies at Georgetown University in addition to working at Navanti Group in Arlington, Va. Previously, she was a program assistant at the Warsaw, Poland, office of the German Marshall Fund.
Daoyen Lei, BA ’11, earned a master’s of science in teaching at Fordham University and is currently a special education and mathematics teacher at a NYC public high school!
Ann (Planutis) Linder, BA ’69, published her second book, World War I in 40 Posters, analyzing European and American posters, in 2016. She currently teaches courses on the world wars and interwar years in Montgomery, Ala., and is working on a book on World War II posters.
Ellen Meyerheim, BA ’68, says “Retirement agrees with me.”
Monika Misiuta, BA ’96, has worked in the pharmaceutical/medical industry in marketing strategy and operations for a decade and a half, holding roles of increasing responsibility, focused in the United States and globally. Her past employers included Novartis and Merck.
Sarah Moga, BA ’13, continues to use her German background as a freelance mezzo-soprano who specializes in Bach performances, while working full time in nonprofit fundraising.
Meagen Moreland, BA ’09, served as press and communications attaché at the Consulate General of France in Louisiana following PhD work at Tulane University. In 2017, she welcomed a baby and co-founded Happy Raptor Distilling, LLC in New Orleans.
Kelsey O'Brien, Esq., BA ’11, will celebrate her wedding with Nicholas Arazoza, Esq. in May 2018 in Center Moriches, N.Y. Kelsey is an associate attorney practicing in New York. She represents hospitals, physicians and their private practices in medical malpractice actions.
Matthew Orr, BA ’16, spent the year after graduating interning at a bank and then a business school in Moscow. He is currently a Fulbright ETA grantee working in Izhevsk, Russia.
Chasta (Jones) Piatakovas, BA ’99, MA ’07, is an administrative assistant supporting Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine in the European Department at the International Monetary Fund.
Chelsea Riley, BA ’05, has been an educator in Mexico for 12 years. She recently became the curriculum coordinator for an international school.
Felicia Rodriguez, BA ’07, is using her Spanish language skills to support the development and evaluation of innovative reproductive health services for underserved Latina youth in California at the University of California, San Francisco.
Nancy (Wall) Rogers, PhD ’74, serves on the board of the George Sand Association and recently translated Sand's novel Nanon into English. She retired from executive positions at the NEH and the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2013.
Gregory Seidner, BA ’11, graduated from the University of New Hampshire School of Law in May 2017 and passed the D.C. bar this summer. He is currently working at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
Christopher Shaw, BA ’01, was granted tenure and promoted to the rank of associate professor of mathematics at Columbia College Chicago in 2016.
Max Shelton, BA ’12, is currently living and working as an ESL instructor in Moscow, Russia.
Melissa Svenningsen, BA ’15, is currently teaching English in Moscow, Russia.
Stephanie (Katrina) Williams-Montgomery, BA ’70, received a BA in German language and literature from Columbia College. She serves as president and CEO of her own consulting firm in Portland, Oregon.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
The Department of Romance, German & Slavic Languages & Literature would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the department from January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017.
Benevity Community Impact Fund *
Embassy of Italy *
Dr. Warren D. Ashby, BA ’61, MA ‘66
Terese A.D. Beauchamp, BA ’72
John R. Cremer #
Annabel de Braganca, BA ’11
Dr. Maria J. de la Fuente +#
Donald Hubert Duffy, BA ’11
Cynthia M. Figueroa, BBA ’12
Daniel H. Gallagher, BA ’75
William H. Girvan, MPhil ’70
Elizabeth A. Goodwin, BA ’16
Christopher Blair Hill, BA ’11
William E. Kaduck, BA ’14
Jordan N. Kestenbaum, BA ’15
Karen Joan Kocher, BA ’85
Conrad Lee *
Elisabeth Penina Liebow, BA ’84
Thomas E. McCullough #
Renee May Meyer, MA ’77
Gabriel S. Miller, BA ’17
Sarah Alyse Moga, BA ’13
Mark E. Richter, BBA ’79
Marilyn C. Schwartz, BA ’17
Jonathan Thomas Vasdekas, BA ’12
Maria Soukhanova Watson, BA ’67, MA ’72
Margit Angelika Williams, MA ’77
Kristen L. Zaehringer, BA ’02
Gifts to the Department of Romance, German, and Slavic Languages & Literatures allow us to provide support for faculty and student research and travel, graduate student fellowships, and academic enrichment activities including guest speakers, visiting faculty, and colloquia. Each gift, no matter how large or small, has a positive impact on our educational mission and furthers our standing as one of the nation's preeminent liberal arts colleges at one of the world's preeminent universities.
You can make your gift to the department in a number of ways:
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