“If I were doing PR for the humanities,” says Jonathan Dedmon, noting recent news stories about the beleaguered disciplines, “I’d use the Tom Sawyer strategy.” Dedmon, a principal with the public relations firm The Dilenschneider Group, recalls the scene from Mark Twain’s novel in which Tom convinces neighborhood boys to whitewash a fence for him. “Hey, everyone,” Dedmon calls out in a mock-Sawyer voice, “you’re missing out on the most fun in your life!” The difference is that unlike Tom Sawyer, Dedmon, a Division of the Humanities visiting committee member, wants to work right alongside those whom he brings together. “That’s the real joy in it,” he explains. 
 
Dedmon’s enthusiasm for the humanities also led him to establish in 2007 the Claire and Emmett Dedmon Visiting Creative Writers Program, in honor of his late parents. Emmett Dedmon, AB’39, was a University trustee and longtime editor at the Chicago Sun-Times; his wife, Claire, served on the Women’s Board at UChicago, says Dedmon. Each year the program invites a writer in residence to speak at the University. The talks draw enthusiastic audiences from fields across the University, and Dedmon is almost always in attendance.
 
The program is interdisciplinary by design. Past writers have included essayist Tom Bissell, whose work covers topics from international politics to video games, and novelist Richard Bausch. Comics journalist Joe Sacco and cartoonist Alison Bechdel have held the title, as have translator-critics Eliot Weinberger, Esther Allen, and the late Michael Henry Heim. “The Dedmon program breaks out of genre silos and also provides models of creative work for a scholarly university,” says John Wilkinson, a professor of practice in the arts in English and the newly appointed chair of the University’s Creative Writing program. 
 
Hosting Dedmon writers is at the heart of encouraging academic and creative pursuits to feed into and inform one another, explains Wilkinson: “One person can change the world from her solitude, and that will always be so.” But writers who stand before an audience and speak about their work make possible precisely the moments of “real joy” that Dedmon envisioned.
 
By engaging with students, faculty, and the public, writers in residence help foster a creative scholarly community at the University, says Wilkinson. “Most important for me,” he adds, “is that those who do not know what a poem or an intricate fiction might do for them in its making or in its reading should enjoy the discovery and then the further adventure.”
 
The 2014 Dedmon writer in residence will be D. T. Max, a staff writer at the New Yorker. Max—who is scheduled to visit campus next March—is the author of Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (2012), and The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery (2006). 


PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS RESEARCH CENTER


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.