Franzen at KenyonGAMBIER, Ohio (November 16, 2010)
Kenyon will welcome novelist and essayist Jonathan Franzen as the speaker at the 183rd Commencement on May 21, 2011.
Franzen will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree, and philosopher and author Martha Nussbaum, who will make remarks during the commencement, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
"We were attracted to Franzen because we knew of his achievements and felt that he would be a great addition to Kenyon's strong literary reputation," said Rachel Berger, senior class president.
Franzen won the 2001 National Book Award for his novel The Corrections and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the same novel. He is also the author of the novels Freedom (2010), Strong Motion (1992), and The Twenty-Seventh City (1988). And he wrote the non-fiction books The Discomfort Zone (2006) and How to Be Alone (2002). He also contributes to The New Yorker magazine.
The New York Times called Freedom "a masterpiece of American fiction" and "a new kind of novel that might break the suffocating grip of postmodernism." Time magazine featured Franzen on the cover of its August 23, 2010, issue, with the headline "Great American Novelist." Time called him "the most ambitious and also one of the best" American novelists, a "devotee of the wide shot, the all-embracing, way-we-live-now novel."
Franzen told Time, "To me, now, to do something new is not to develop a form for the novel that has never been seen on earth before. It means to try to come to terms as a person and a citizen with what's happening in the world now and to do it in some comprehensible, coherent way."
He follows his friend and fellow novelist David Foster Wallace to Kenyon for a commencement address. Wallace, who took his own life in 2008, spoke at Kenyon in 2005. That address has attracted widespread attention and was made into the book This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. Franzen spoke at the memorial service for Wallace.
Franzen will also visit Kenyon on February 16 and 17, 2011, for lectures and a discussion.
Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, where she also holds associate appointments in classics and political science. She taught previously at Harvard University and Brown University. She is the author of a number of books, including Cultivating Humanity (1997), Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004), and From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation & Constitutional Law (2010).
Nussbaum has an interest in political philosophy and ethics and is an advocate for gender equality. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. She was the founding president of the Human Development and Capability Association.