Celebrated fiction writer Jonathan Safran Foer will teach a writing workshop as a visiting professor in the English Department next semester, English professor J.D. McClatchy announced to writing concentrators Wednesday.
Foer, the bestselling author of “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” has garnered widespread praise — and criticism — from leading literary critics and writers.
The English Department asked Foer to teach the intermediate fiction-writing seminar after a visit to campus last month that proved popular among students, McClatchy said. During his visit, Foer gave a Master’s Tea in Jonathan Edwards College and read excerpts from his work as part of the Schlesinger Visiting Writer Series.
“The rooms were packed with admiring and fascinated listeners,” McClatchy said. “He answered questions, spoke about writing and about his career and interests with such authority and panache that we thought he would make a wonderful addition to the creative writing faculty here.”
But reactions to Foer’s work have not been all positive. In a review in the New York Press subtitled “Why the author of Everything Is Illuminated is a Fraud and a Hack,” Harry Siegel railed against Foer as a “vile author.” In a review of Foer’s second book in The Atlantic Monthly, critic B.R. Myers said of the book: “After a while the gimmickry starts to remind one of a clown frantically yanking toys out of his sack: a fatal image.”
Despite the negative reviews, Foer’s popularity has made the author “somewhat inescapable,” said English professor Paul Grimstad, who has not read Foer’s books or short stories.
“He’s got quite a buzz surrounding him right now in literary circles,” Grimstad said. “Whether someone who’s written a hit novel is therefore necessarily equipped to be an effective professor of creative writing — I suppose he’ll have to prove himself.”
McClatchy said he asked Foer if he would ever consider teaching at the University while the two were en route to New York City following his visit last month. Foer replied that he would be interested but had never been asked to do so, McClatchy said.
“I tucked that little piece of information away,” McClatchy said. “Everybody was so enthusiastic about the prospect that the [English Department] chairman [Langdon Hammer] got in touch with him right away.”
Although Foer’s presence will fill a current gap in the English Department — fiction professor Amy Bloom will be on leave next semester — McClatchy said Foer will be much more than a mere “hole-filler.”
“He’s an extraordinary talent, and he’s joining a creative writing faculty that is itself a very stellar group,” McClatchy said.
McClatchy said Foer’s course will be geared toward experienced writers and will probably include only about 15 students. Foer has also agreed to tutor some English majors concentrating in writing and advise a senior project.
Although Foer was rejected from Yale as a high school senior and attended Princeton University as an undergraduate, his brother Joshua Foer ’04 said he thinks Jonathan and Yale will be a better match this time around.
“I think they offered him this gig, and I think he wanted to teach a little bit and it’ll be a good fit for him,” he said.
English major Eleanor Liu ’08 said although she already has an advisor for her project and will not be able to take Foer’s course next semester, she is glad to hear Foer will be teaching.
“I think it’ll be exciting and interesting to have someone teaching who’s such a young but also popular writer,” Liu said.
“Everything is Illuminated” was adapted into a movie starring Elijah Wood in 2005.