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“The first generation thinks about survival; the ones that follow tell the stories,” writes Hua Hsu, professor of literature. In an excerpt from his upcoming memoir Stay True, published in the New Yorker under the title “My Dad and Kurt Cobain,” Hsu writes about his relationship with his parents, immigrant identity, and music. “My father’s record collection had the effect of making music seem uncool to me,” he writes. However, through years of correspondence via fax and phone, the two would come to relate to each other through a mutual appreciation of American popular music. “We seemed to spend hours apart, occasionally intersecting in some unlikely aisle,” Hsu writes. “We were enthralled by the same music, but we related to it differently.” Hsu weaves personal history and cultural critique, exploring themes of assimilation and double consciousness. On the former, he writes: “Later still, I came to recognize that assimilation was a race toward a horizon that wasn’t fixed. The ideal was ever shifting, and your accent would never quite be perfect.” Stay True: A Memoir will be published September 27, 2022.
When Valeria Luiselli, Sadie Samuelson Levy Professor in Languages and Literature at Bard College, was asked to guest-edit the 2022 iteration of the O. Henry Prizes, a “fundamental thing” had changed: the prize was now open to any writer, not only “American” ones. “That alone was reason enough for me to accept,” Luiselli writes in Poets & Writers. The rule had “accumulated a number of absurd consequences,” she writes, including the exclusion of authors who “had been living, sometimes entire lifetimes, in the United States” but lacked a U.S. birth certificate. This barrier, she argues, was not only exclusionary, but damaging to literary culture: “Imposing upon literature rules written in some government office, in a nation’s obscure and labyrinthine immigration system, is not only absurd, but simply contrary to the very nature of literature.” The Best Short Stories 2022: The O. Henry Prize Winners, edited by Luiselli, ultimately included 10 stories in translation out of a total of 20 selected works. Their inclusion is a reflection of their excellence, Luiselli writes, serving as a recognition of “a moment in which we are beginning to open the doors and windows of this old locked-down house, letting new light and air come in to stir us powerfully into movement.”
Bard College Professor of Comparative Literature Joseph Luzzi has been selected for a Public Scholars award in the amount of $60,000 by the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) in support of his book project, Brunelleschi’s Children: How a Renaissance Orphanage Saved 400,000 Lives and Reinvented Childhood. The NEH Public Scholars award funds well-researched books in the humanities aimed at a broad public audience. Luzzi’s grant supports researching and writing a cultural history of the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence, Italy, an exceptional institution for the care and protection of abandoned children and a notable example of both early Italian Renaissance architecture and the power of Renaissance humanist principles, from 1419 to the present.
“I am deeply honored and grateful for this generous grant from the NEH,” says Luzzi. “This support will enable me to tell the dramatic story of how the Hospital of the Innocents saved the lives of so many children while also reflecting the remarkable cultural and creative developments that were transforming Florence into a center of the European Renaissance. I am especially committed to exploring how these discoveries made by the Hospital of the Innocents centuries ago can be a vital source for our own understanding of childhood today.”
The “Innocenti,” as the hospital is called, originated as a home for babies and children born “out-of-wedlock” or who could not be raised by their parents due to illness, poverty, or other reasons. Initiated by a charitable bequest from philanthropist Francesco di Marco Datini, the orphanage was one of the first major architectural commissions of Filippo Brunelleschi, a pioneer of Renaissance architecture who also engineered the Duomo, the massive cupola of the Florence Cathedral. One of the most recognizable buildings in all of Florence, the Innocenti is known for its dignified and compassionate design.
From its opening until 1875, the Innocenti rescued more than 400,000 abandoned children from starvation, exposure, and other threats, offering them care that went beyond mere physical protection. The Innocenti’s pedagogical practices revolutionized childhood educational curricula, moving away from being primarily religious towards a more humanistic understanding, grounded in a rediscovery of the morals, values, beliefs, and cultural forms of ancient Greek and Roman worlds. The foundlings were taught music and the arts, previously reserved for the Florentine elite, and “unwanted” girls were taught a trade and provided with a dowry, so that they could enjoy economic independence or find suitable marriages. In the 19th century, the Innocenti modernized medical science to create the conceptual underpinning for the birth of the field of pediatrics as a viable scientific discipline. To this day, Andrea della Robbia’s high-relief, glazed blue figures of swaddled babies that have adorned the façade of the Innocenti since 1487 are still the inspiration for the American Academy of Pediatrics insignia.
With the support of the NEH Public Scholars award, Luzzi will conduct research, travel, and writing leading towards the publication of a comprehensive history of the Innocenti and its groundbreaking impact over six centuries. Brunelleschi’s Children: How a Renaissance Orphanage Saved 400,000 Lives and Reinvented Childhood will be the first deeply researched, nonfiction book on the Hospital of the Innocents, and the first work to combine the history of childhood and children, children’s rights, and Renaissance Studies, encapsulating rich analysis on the history of art, architecture, medicine, and Italian culture and society.
Charles Ranlett Flint Professor of Humanities Daniel Mendelsohn talks with David Naimon, host of Tin House’s Between the Covers podcast, about Mendelsohn’s book Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate, which weaves together the stories of three exiled writers Erich Auerbach, François Fénelon, and W. G. Sebald. Their conversation circles around narrative structures and representation, Greek and Hebrew modes of storytelling, ancient classical and biblical texts, literary digression, ring composition, family histories, the Holocaust, Homer, Cavafy, Proust, and Joyce, among other topics. “As we all know, just to make an obvious point, we’re living in a world in which the power of narratives—true, false, deliberately false, accidentally false—is something of vital importance in our lives and that is our existential struggle now. How do you know when something’s true? How do you tell it to people? Will they believe it? I think these are rather urgent points,” says Mendelsohn.
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