Author: Terni, Jennifer

Rahul Koonathara curates show on Indian Shadow Puppetry

Graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, Rahul Koonathara, celebrates the spectacular South Indian shadow puppet traditions of Tolu Bommalatta and Tholpavakoothu, as well as recent innovations reflecting the changing nature of the form, in a show he has curated called Tradition and Revolution in Indian Shadow Puppetry.

Rahul Koonathara is completing his MA in Comparative Literature which is focused on tradition and transformation in  shadow puppetry. He is himself an accomplished shadow puppeteer, a tradition in his family. This past summer he toured extensively through the US with his father, Padmashri Ramachandra Pulavar, also a master and keeper of this form. They  performed across the country.

Image portrays traditional puppet manipulation onto screen lit by candles. Rahul Koonathara is manipulating the shadow puppet.
Rahul Koonathara manipulates puppets.

The exhibition’s opening took place on August 4th. It featured a tour of the Ballard Institute, a gathering to celebrate the opening, followed by a 45-minute-long performance of Tholpava Koothu: The Shadow Puppet Play of Kerala by Padmashri Ramachandra Pulavar and Rahul Koonathara. This ancient, ritual-based performance was based on selected verses from the epic Kamba Ramayana. On August 5th Rahul  and Ramachandra Pulavar hosted an Indian Shadow Puppetry Workshop. The day-long event featured shadow puppet design, carving, and manipulation.

For over thirteen generations Indian puppeteers have performed myths, customs, and rituals based on two Hindu epics, The Ramayana and The Mahābhārata. In recent years new variations in design, construction, and content have re-shaped traditional performances, which in many cases have shifted from temple performances to secular locales and included new subjects such as the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, and the animal characters of the Panchatantra, as well as contemporary social and political themes.

Image portrays shadow puppetry in action. Four figures, one a child, are grouped together beside a stylized tree.
Shadow puppetry in action.

Tradition and Revolution in Indian Shadow Puppetry will remain on exhibit at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry through December 17, 2023

Please note this exhibit contains some nudity.

LCL Professor Valérie Saugera Wins NEH Fellowship

Valérie Saugera, Associate Professor of French and Director of the Language Program in French, has been awarded a National Endowment of for the Humanities (NEH) grant for her project, “Chronicling Louchébem, the Resilient Secret Language of the Butchers of Paris.”  This Fellowship, one of the most prestigious in the humanities, will allow Professor Saugera time to complete her current book project on Louchébem, a secret, endangered language (argot) spoken by Paris butchers since the nineteenth century.

Saugera has expertise in lexical borrowing and has published widely on Anglicisms in the French language. She is the author of Remade In France: Anglicisms in the Lexicon and Morphology of French published with Oxford University Press in 2017.  In this new project, she marries linguistic and ethnographic research to explore a trade argot that many considered dead. Saugera’s research shows that it is still alive and used by a significant number of traditional butchers in Paris.

Although Louchébem is often classified as extinct, Saugera’s recent fieldwork reveals that the secret language of Parisian butchers survives, although in decline.  An argot borrowed from thieves’ slang that emerged in the nineteenth-century, in a slaughterhouse located in Villette. Louchébem is still spoken in butcher shops. The pressures on the butchers’ profession since the late 1980s lend urgency to the task of documenting Louchébem, especially given that scholarly research has overlooked this singular argot. Based on ethno-linguistic fieldwork, including data collected from 227 Parisian butchers, Sugéra’s book project chronicles Louchébem by tracing it to its origin, recording its history, and evaluating its current status. This project investigates an endangered cultural and linguistic phenomenon while shedding light on wider issues of modernity, including the role of tradition, the relationship between language and consumption, and the value of linguistic diversity in a world where languages are rapidly dying off.

We are providing a link to an overview of a talk about Louchébem that Professor Saugéra delivered in 2018 in the context of an annual LCL colloquia series.  It provides a helpful overview of what the NEH committee obviously recognized as a fascinating, urgent, and highly innovative project.

LCL Lecture: Valérie Saugera and the Secret Language of Butchers

In memoriam: Professor Laurietz Seda Ramirez

Many have heard about the sad news that our dear colleague, Laurietz Seda Ramirez, passed away on December 7, 2021.

Her trajectory as a researcher was, and will continue to be, a source of pride for our Spanish section and the department of Literatures, Cultures & Languages. Those of you who have read her books, such as Teatro contra el olvido (U Científica del Sur 2012), La nueva dramaturgia puertorriqueña (Ateneo Puertorriqueño 2003, 2007), Travesías trifrontes: Teatro de vanguardia en el Perú, Trans/Acting: Latin American and Latino Performing Arts (Bucknell UP 2009) and Teatro de frontera 11/12 (U de San Marcos 2008) understand this statement perfectly. She was internationally renowned, as one of the most prominent figures in the field of Spanish American theater.

Her work as editor, critic, and scholar of dramaturgical theater leaves a significant mark. She always interpreted textual theater together with dramatic practice, ritual, and human presence. Pre-pandemic, this perspective forged an itinerary of remarkable travels and residencies. She had an adventurous spirit and this led her to seek fearlessly out theatrical life in unexpected places: in abandoned factories, in urban ruins, in squares and streets, in destitute neighborhoods, in mountain ranges and tropical jungles. Her journeys informed her academic writing; she was able to understand the intimate relationship between globalization and theater, particularly in late capitalism and liquid modernity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she studied synchronously performed virtual theater and managed to teach her last graduate seminar while facing a grueling illness. Despite this, her conversations with colleagues and students stemmed from a need to understand how these forces were reshaping the lines of an art form she knew intimately.

Above all, she taught us in the classroom and through her publications.  We celebrate the traces she has left in the history of our section and in our department. The study of Spanish American theater was of great importance in our curriculum.  Her graduate students found themselves acting and directing as a way of investigating theater as a bodily practice, a social event, a live act. The importance of her contribution to Latin American theater and its presence in the United States can be gauged by the LATT (Latin American Theatre Today) conference in 2005, in which Storrs turned into the epicenter of Latin American theater for a few days. The hemisphere’s main voices in criticism and dramaturgy, as well as renowned actors and theatrical collectives, collected for the gathering. It was one of the most successful Latin American theater conferences and festivals held in the northeastern United States. Laurietz seized on the occasion of this intellectual and artistic meeting to create the prestigious George Woodyard Latin American Theater Award in an effort to celebrate the achievements of Latin American playwrights.

In addition to her academic work, she was a great mentor, colleague and friend. We will remember her humanity: her professionalism, her camaraderie, her ability to work in a group, and to listen and understand students and colleagues. Laurietz was kind and creative, elegant.  She was a reserved and loyal friend, with an endearing and cordial manner. She made her home in several countries and continents from her beloved island, Puerto Rico to Peru, from Connecticut to Granada (Spain).

We have lost not only a member of our Spanish section,  but someone who has marked our lives in countless ways over the last twenty-four years. One way to honor her memory is not only to continue reading the works she bequeathed to us, but also to keep her in mind as an example of the best that our profession has to offer.


Upcoming Events in the Decolonizing Area Studies Language Teaching Project

Last summer, LCL’s Professors Anke Finger, Professor and Manuela Wagner along with Graduate Student Isabell Sluka won a grant in an initiative sponsored by CLAS in order to develop anti-racist courses, to enable insights into racism on college campuses, and to facilitate direct interaction with anti-racist activists.

The focus of the grant, called Decolonizing Area Studies: Towards Intercultural Citizenship and Social Justice was to de-center whiteness in language education and help uncover the oppression that minoritized students often suffer and that dominant groups perpetuate. This project involves different complementary activities and was designed to solicit participation by active language teachers, including graduate students through a series of lectures, a symposium, and a graduate student working group. The participant-driven project aimed to develop a plan for implementing theories, approaches, practices, and assessments that would help decolonize language curricula by taking a hands-on approach.  The organizers hoped that students and faculty could work towards actually implementing new curricula and developing learning materials and teaching methods that truly reflect the diversity and cultural variety of modern-day societies.

Upcoming Events

March 16, 2021, 4:00 pm-5:30 pm.

Double Lecture with Q&A

    • Nicole Coleman, Assistant Professor of German, Wayne State University

“‘We are all more alike than not’: Moving Beyond Universalism for Anti-Racist Pedagogies in the Literature Classroom”

    • José Aldemar Álvarez Valencia, Professor, School of Language Sciences Universidad del Valle, Cali (Colombia)

“‘Doing Research with University Indigenous Students: From ‘rationalizing the decolonial to feeling the decolonial’”

(You can register for this event by following this link:)



COMING In May 2021.  Two-Day symposium

More information about this even coming soon!



For more information about the Decolonizing Area Studies initiatives, please visit

Read the whole article on the CLAS Anti-Racism pedagogy grant project in UConn Today at

Upcoming Symposium: The Translation of Letters and Ideas in Cuba’s Republic

This symposium brings together important scholars in the area of Cuban studies to analyze the Cuban period between 1902 and 1959. The presentations will investigate translations and the exercise of translation in relation to the formation of various humanistic or scientific disciplines on the island, such as anthropology, medicine, political science, literature, and psychoanalysis. The symposium will allow, on the one hand, to expand critical studies on translation in Cuba, and on the other, to implement the concept of translation as a vehicle to investigate the racial, gender, or post-colonial constructions put into practice in the Republican period.

Organized by Jacqueline Loss, Professor, Literatures, Cultures & Languages and Reynaldo Lastre, PhD Student and Jorgensen Fellowship Recipient

March 2-March 5, 2021

Co-sponsored by:
Department of Literatures, Cultures & Languages
Humanities Institute
El Instituto Seed Grant
John N. Plank Lecture Series
Global Affairs

Registration is obligatory. To obtain program information and conference links please visit us at:



Corona Virus Leads to Transatlantic Course Initiative

When the pandemic struck, few of Ana Maria Diaz-Marcos’ 50 students in her Span 3232: Literature of Crisis in Modern Spain course imagined that the spread of a worldwide virus would lead to a meeting with a living Spanish playwright over Zoom. Yet when the crisis hit, Professor Diaz-Marcos, an expert in contemporary Spanish theater, saw an opportunity for learning on many levels.  She contacted Gracia Morales, author of the play NN12 that deals with historical memory and the drama of the “desaparecidos” (missing people) to invite her to create a special event for her class. Gracia Morales also happens to be a professor at the University of Granada (Spain).  On April 15th both professors joined online to lead a virtual discussion on the importance of historical memory during and in the aftermath of any crisis.  Graduate students and faculty along with other students in LCL, many majoring and minoring in Spanish, joined Diaz-Marcos’s class for the virtual meeting.  Students were given the opportunity to ask Prof. Morales questions about her dedication to theater, her academic life, and her thoughts on the current crisis. The event turned the challenge of the pandemic into an occasion of transnational teaching, learning, collaboration, and hope. Gracia Morales concluded on a positive note when she commented that “art is deeply human (…) This pandemic is going to change society as we know it. Hopefully it will bring about a more lucid society.”

Fulbright Contributes to Dynamic Irish Program at UConn

UConn is lucky to host Sinéad Murray as this year’s Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in Irish (Gaelic). Sinéad is a passionate advocate for the Irish language and for Irish Studies both at home, in Ireland, and among those here abroad who are interested in the history, language and culture of Ireland.

There is a political and cultural battle to keep traditional Irish culture alive within Ireland but the omnipresence of English makes the effort of integrating Irish more difficult. Sinéad explained that an Ghaeilge (Irish) is an official language of Ireland along with English and that all students learn it and over 70,000 use it in their daily lives, but these live mostly in rural areas. She also points to the traditional class politics surrounding the Irish language, which has complicated the status of an Ghaeilge even more, since it has historically been associated with the rural poor. This being said, at the primary-school level, many children in Ireland today are educated in Gaelscoileanna (Irish-language Schools) schools. This was also Sinéad’s experience; her family was committed to transmitting her Irish cultural heritage to her, and her dad especially considers Irish culture indissociable from the spoken language. The development of Gaelscoileanna has helped spread a working knowledge of the language beyond rural counties into urban areas like Dublin, where it has become more fashionable among the highly-educated middle class. Despite these efforts, there has been a slight decrease in the number of people who use Irish in their daily lives over the last few decades, but this trend has been variable since with every generation of parents, teachers, and students new cultural investments become apparent which have turned the tide in other Celtic-language communities in Europe, for instance in Wales or Brittany. Sinéad who is a primary school teacher, plans to return to teaching Irish language to elementary school children in Dublin and it was this commitment to Irish education that prompted her to pursue her MA and venture to the US to fine-tune her experience by teaching Irish at the college level thanks to the Fulbright Program.  She just completed masters in ‘Scríobh agus Cumarsáid na Gaeilge’ at University College Dublin in December.


The Irish program is helmed by two very distinguished Irish specialists, Professors Brendan Kane from the departments of History and Litetatures, Cultures, and Languages and Mary Burke of the Department of English. The prominence and reach of the Irish language within the Irish Studies Program at UConn is something that sets it apart, since it is one of the rare places in the US where students can study Old, Early Modern and Modern Irish language and culture. In fact, thanks to the initiatives of Brendan Kane, UConn is now leading an international, multi-institutional effort to recover and codify the Irish language as it evolved in the mediaeval to early modern period. Irish has the distinction of being one of Europe’s oldest, extant written vernaculars and there is an abundant written record of Old (and Middle) Irish documents dating from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries. This distinction earned the attention of nineteenth and early twentieth philologists who longed to trace the origins of Indo-European languages and cultures in Europe. For this reason, Old Irish has been available to scholars in a way that the texts from the period that follow it, the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, have not been. After the tenth century many European vernaculars began to crystalize and in the geopolitical story that Europeans began to tell themselves, the new languages—English, Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, and German—began to take center stage, although this period continued to be a remarkably rich one in terms of Irish cultural production. Scholarly attention moved on, leaving Irish without the supports that help reproduce any language: dictionaries, guides and grammars. Professor Kane has mobilized an international effort partnering with many key institutions in the US including the Universities of Notre Dame and Harvard University as well as many of the major universities in Ireland including Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork, to create a web-based platform, Lé, to develop an online dictionary, grammar and reading guide using texts from the period. Undergraduates, graduate students and Irish specialists have spent thousands of hours scanning and categorizing period manuscripts with software designed to help specialists sort through the data. Thanks to these efforts to introduce people to the language, this year the first Early Modern Irish grammar game will be beta-launched through Greenhouse Studios. This project has had the corollary benefit of creating many links for our graduate and undergraduate programs: a new exchange program with the National University of Ireland, in Galway, coming online that has a strong emphasis on Irish language learning, and Emmet de Barra, an Irish national who did his undergraduate degree at Trinity College, Dublin, is here pursuing an MA degree and working on the Lé platform.  Besides teaching introductory Irish here at UConn for a couple of years to help shore up the program, Professor Kane will be co-teaching a course on Irish language and its historical contexts at Harvard University next fall.


Professor Burke, how specializes in Modern and contemporary Irish literature and drama, Irish identities and Irish material history and culture, anchors the literary side of the Irish Studies program.  English majors may pursue a concentration in Irish Literature by taking four courses focusing on Irish Literature, Language or History. Every semester, courses in Contemporary and Modern Irish Literature are offered, alongside more specialized courses that touch on subjects like the theater, poetry, and the history of Ireland across three campuses and two departments. The Fulbright Program at UConn has been instrumental in ensuring that Irish language courses are also available every semester (Mary Burke actually sits on the Fulbright National Screening Committee).


The graduate program is prestigious and fairly large for such a specialized program. It is typically home to as many as seven students at a time preparing dissertations in Irish literature or history from the medieval era to the eighteenth-century to the contemporary period. Recent alumni of the program include a current Director of Irish Studies at Villanova, and Heads of the English Departments at Miami University, William Paterson University, and University of New Haven in Connecticut.  Most recently Matthew Shelton, a Ph.D. candidate in Irish poetry, was awarded the Krause Research Fellowship for his translations of contemporary Irish-language poet Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh at the American Conference for Irish Studies. The Irish Studies Alliance, a graduate organization sponsors a Working Paper Series and works with faculty to coordinate conference participation at regional and national Irish conferences.  An average of three to six public talks or readings related to Irish literature occur every semester at UConn, usually through the English and History Departments.  The Gerson Reading, organized by Professor Burke, is a premier event in Irish Studies at UConn. The Gerson Reading has hosted most of the best-known Irish writers of recent years including Colm Toibin, Edna O’Brien, Colum McCann, Paul Muldoon. This year’s reader will be Emilie Pine on March 31 at Alumni House. Emilie Pine is the author of bestseller Notes to Self which is considered the most important Irish memoir in decades.


A variety of extra-curricular societies contribute to keeping the Irish community at UConn vibrant. There is An Cumann Gaelach (Irish Language Society) that serves both undergrads and graduate students; the UConn Irish Club, just for undergraduates; UConn Gaelic Football; UConn Irish Dance and Husky Hurling also for undergraduates. Meanwhile, Sinéad Murray and Dr. Kane run a UNIV course on Irish Culture and there are plans in the works to establish Irish Studies as a minor.

For information for classes next fall, please follow this link

Liansu Meng’s Ecofeminist Illumnination of Poet Chen Jingrong

As part of the LCL Faculty Colloquium Series, Liansu Meng, Associate Professor of Chinese, presented “Ecofeminism Avant La Lettre: Chen Jingrong and Her Creative Translation of Baudelaire.” The presentation was excerpted from her essay in Chinese Poetry and Translations: Rights and Wrongs (Amsterdam University Press, 2019) edited by Maghiel van Crevel and Lucas Klein, a book that brings new thinking to the interrelations between translation, poetry and China.  It is also part of a chapter in her forthcoming book Man/Woman, Machine/Nature: Modern Chinese Poetry at the Intersection of Industrialism and Feminism (1915-1980) with the University of Michigan Press. Chen Jingrong belonged to a poetic lineage that performed translations of Western works into Chinese in order to stimulate innovation in Chinese poetry.  Chen was the only woman translator of Baudelaire and one of the very few women poets of her generation.  Blending translation and reception studies, Professor Meng explored Chen’s original interpretation of Baudelaire’s poetry in her critical essays, her translations and her own poetry, drawing a contrast between Chen’s approach to Baudelaire and those of his male translators to argue that the differences between theirapproaches can be mapped onto an early form of ecofeminism.

Chen moved to Shanghai in 1946 shortly after the end of the Japanese occupation of the city when the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) drew to a close with the defeat of Japan in WWII. China resumed the unresolved civil war between the Nationalist Party (GMD) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). (The CCP would finally prevail against the GMD in 1949).  Although Shanghai was controlled by the GMD in 1946, when Chen published her first essay on Baudelaire,  “Baudelaire and the Cat” (波德莱尔与猫), the CCP’s influence dominated the intellectual underground and championed a political realist-inspired poetics dubbed the “People’s Poetry” that was supposed to appeal to the masses. Baudelaire’s bourgeois poetry was not considered appropriate and Chen faced grave criticism from an all-male community of literary critics for translating a decadent Western poet.

In her essay, Chen characterizes Baudelaire as a poet who feels equal empathy for all things,  especially “minor and small things,” which “he painted . . . with a layer of miraculous radiance.” Intellectuals in China had been drawn to Social Darwinism from early twentieth century. Chen pointed to the savagery of the war to refute the theory, arguing shocking cruelty towards their own kind and other creatures proved that humans had not evolved as a species. In Baudelaire’s deceptively simple invocations of everyday things, Chen argued that he created images infused with the unpretentious feeling of lived experience and empathy for the poor and the marginalized, precisely because he had written from the point of view of his own experiences of suffering.

In response to her critics, Chen published another essay in 1947, “On My Poetry and Poetry Translation” (我的诗和译诗) in which she foregrounded her identity as a woman, associating her individual suffering with the universal oppression of women and other injustices. This was a bold stand to take considering many male intellectuals’ confident assertions that women’s equality in China had been achieved or was included in the discourses of class, revolution and national survival. In the essay Chen sketched out what Liansu Meng described as eco-feminism avant la lettre, a poetics that emphasizes the interconnection and co-existence of all living things and advocates for a wide spectrum of empathy that spans across such categories as class, gender, age, physical ability, and extends to animals and the natural environment.  Chen addressed the issue of gender relations head-on, arguing that again and again women demonstrated their strength, resourcefulness, and empathy in the face of unspeakable challenges, their resilience and compassion offering its own testimony about the range of women’s agency.  In her talk, Meng characterized Chen’s interpretations of Baudelaire as eco-feminist also because Baudelaire’s symbolically-saturated landscapes, their startling juxtapositions of life, death, suffering and decay, pointed towards a new poetics that she drew on in her own poetry to describe landscapes that had been desecrated by war. Meng argued that “the endless oppression of Chinese women enabled them to urgently and sensitively critique this and other injustices in the world—a view which echoes Chen’s reading of Baudelaire’s poetics.”  In this way, Professor Meng concluded, Chen made the case for women’s agency and their empathy that was born from their gendered experience of suffering.

Spotlight: Stefan Bronner

Dr. Stefan Bronner, Assistant Professor in Residence of German Studies, obtained his PhD in Germanistik at the Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg and has published on a wide range of topics including German literature and culture, postmodernism, continental philosophy, spirituality, and the contemporary world.

Bronner’s work is deeply rooted to his passion for literary scholarship. Bronner has become increasingly invested in the concept of “passion” itself and recently he has been collaborating with an international group of like-minded thinkers to actualize new intersections between literature and different ideas about passion. Together, they are at the forefront of a conceptual movement that he calls “Passionate Humanities.” Passionate Humanities is about getting away from stale modes of scholarship and teaching in the traditional academic system. Bronner is interested in “Literaturvermittlung” or the “mediation of literature for the real world.” The group is interrogating subjects like how the widespread availability of media such as Netflix affects the role of literature and reading more generally in everyday life and whether, given this changing context, literature can stay relevant for new generations. At their first gathering in Munich, Bronner and his colleagues brainstormed creative ways of bringing literature to life. The conference focused on strategies for reinventing the humanities and increasing passion for study in today’s corporatized world. Presenters explored ideas for re-thinking the traditional dissertation and for finding ways to engage the importance of irrationality, and the value of Eros and body to teaching and the classroom. The collective is currently drafting a manifesto, planning a US gathering for 2020, and archiving their discussions in an audiovisual blog that can be accessed at

Bronner’s ideas about passion stem, in part, from his own experiences as a student and teacher. In his teaching and his research, Bronner is interested how personal relationships, impulse, and affect can motivate students to study and to learn. Bronner affectionally refers to Dr. Klaus Post, a “fairytale uncle,” whose lectures were more like epic orations than passive presentations of knowledge. He studied continental philosophy with another professor he admired intensely who has been equally important in shaping his interests. There was also the German professor whom he loathed: Bronner remembers working equally hard for that professor because he would not let that person ruin German studies for him. Bronner would like to create what he calls an “Academy of Passions” which would involve projects like creating a belletristic and liberal humanities curriculum for inmates or survivors of trauma. Another initiative would be the development of a “spiritual university,” a reading program focused on global works of scripture or theology that give readers a break from the contemporary world.

Bronner is not sure he will be a “professor for life.” Working as a professor in residence at UCONN, however, has given him a great opportunity to advance his research and connect with both grads and undergrads. Whatever he ends up doing, he knows literature and culture will be constants in his life. In his hometown, Augsburg, he founded Literaturhaus, or “Literature House,” a creative, virtual space for the enjoyment of literature and the arts. Literaturhaus is mainly a virtual space, but Bronner’s family residence in Augsburg-Oberhausen, a working-class neighborhood, sometimes becomes an actual space for hosting literary events, exhibitions, and readings. Bronner decorated his residence with plastic letters and he photoshopped famous German authors attending the opening of Literaturhaus —with their permission, of course—blending the virtual and the actual in unexpected combinations. In another example, they hosted a book launch for Eckhart Nickel and recreated a “scent bar.” Visitors could smell the peculiar odors that Nickel’s characters had smelled in his novel. Bronner and his colleagues also furnish the Literaturhaus to model specific literary settings.

Augsburg is known for its reserve and even a tendency toward grumpiness, but the city nonetheless remains indispensable to Bronner. He divides his life between Storrs and Augsburg, and being a German studies professor has made it possible for him to travel back and forth frequently. The in-between very much shapes who Bronner is, always in transit between Storrs and Augsburg, between professional and passionate intellectual, between literature and the real world.

His dissertation was on the popular Swiss novelist Christian Kracht and was published as a full-length monograph in 2012. The book analyzes what he calls the “spiritual turn” in German culture, and he reads Kracht alongside an eclectic range of popular works from the films of David Lynch’s to Confucius’s Book of Changes or I Ching. Recently, he co-edited a collection of essays on Kracht, all of which examine the topographical breadth of Kracht’s literary settings and the theme of living the “in-between” space. He also co-edited a collection of essays that explore the symbolic dimension of terrorism in 2012.

By Simone Puleo

Spotlight: Verena Aschbacher

Verena Aschbacher, a new Ph.D. student in German Studies, grew up in South Tyrol (Südtirol in German), Italy. Verena’s small hometown lies at the border of Austria and Switzerland and people from the area speak regional dialects of German and Italian. This borderland zone combines Mediterranean and Germanic languages and cultures in the midst of dazzling mountains.

She attributes her love of books to her parents’ habit of bedtime reading when she was young. When she looks back on her childhood it seems that if she was not reading, she was swimming. When she was seventeen, she was asked to give swimming lessons. Coaching kids about how to swim was how she discovered that teaching was something she found extremely fulfilling.

This experience stayed with her and she eventually decided on a teaching career. Once she had completed her master program in teaching, she moved to Switzerland to teach German to migrants and refugee children and adults. Her classes were made up of students from around the world, all of whom spoke different languages. Many were traumatized and she was often confronted by students who had never been to school. The parallel between teaching language and teaching swimming helped her to stay focused on what is satisfying about the learning process for both student and teacher. Aschbacher observed that “teaching a language and teaching how to swim have quite big similarities. At first, the kid would not be able to swim a meter. Then, by practice and graded exercises, the kid is able to swim ten meters, and a hundred then. Learning a language is quite similar.” This perspective gave her the tools to encourage her students through the process and rewards of moving forward despite the challenge each of us encounters while learning something new.

After teaching refugees and migrants for two years, Verena became a secondary school teacher, still in Switzerland. While working at the secondary school, she took an extra class intitled “Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent Development” which provided teachers with methods to help students identify and develop talents about which they might not have been aware. That is where she understood the importance of creativity to students. Creative investment had to become a regular part of students’ re-engagement with a subject in order for the learning process to be effective. The program she took happened to be designed by the Swiss professors of Education Salomé Müller-Oppliger and Victor Mūller-Oppliger, who designed the program after learning about it at UConn. This was how Verena learned about UConn.

After three years as a secondary school teacher, Verena decided she was ready for a new challenge. While she was exploring graduate programs online, she discovered that UConn—a University she had already heard so much about—was recruiting graduate students for its the German Studies Program. A crucial motivation was that she would continue to develop her work in teaching German literature, language, and culture.

Her current interests are for writers such as Juli Zeh and Ferdinand Von Schirach. Verena also enjoys graphic novels including Nick Sousanis’s Unflattened (2015), a work she is hoping to translate into German. She is in her first year of PhD at UConn and is still thinking about a dissertation project.

—Lodi Maresescu