Lectures, conferences go beyond the classroom

The line formed early outside Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, stretching the whole length of the sidewalk to Fishburne Lane. The people in line seemed unfazed by the threat of rain.

Every seat would be filled, the audience a multigenerational mix of students, faculty, Emory alumni and guests from the community at large. The occasion was a free performance by Paul Simon, culminating his much-anticipated, three-day September visit to Atlanta to participate in Emory’s 2013 Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature.

For about an hour, the legendary singer/songwriter, joined by guitarist Mark Stewart and other friends on stage, played guitar and sang selections from his vast catalog of songs, including “Sounds of Silence,” “Slip-Sliding Away,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” “Hearts and Bones” and “American Tune.”

During his visit, Simon also gave two lectures and took part in what was billed as a public conversation with former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins.

The aim of the biennial Ellmann Lectures, inaugurated in 1980, is to bring world-class writers and thinkers to Emory to deliver a series of lectures on modern literature. The lectures are named in honor of longtime Emory professor Richard Ellmann, a noted biographer of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. Recent Ellman lecturers have included Margaret Atwood, Nobel Prize laureates Seamus Heaney and Mario Vargas Llosa, Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie and David Lodge. The lectures are ticketed but free and open to the public.

“Most people of our generation who know Paul Simon’s music and paid attention to it, respect him as a great poet,” said Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the university, who is working on a collection of short stories and teaches for the Creative Writing Program at Emory.

“Music as modern literature is an expansion of the best literary ideas and ideals, and the Ellmann Series highlights the great literary traditions that we have. Emory is very proud of that. It’s one of the stars in our crown. It’s located here, but it’s international in scope and people want to be a part of this,” Magee said. “In addition, they are drawn to Emory because of the work and material we have in MARBL (Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library).”

Emory’s acquisition of novelist Salman Rushdie’s papers resulted from a casual conversation with Emory leaders when he was the Ellmann lecturer in 2004. The works are now part of Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, an impressive repository of rare books, original letters, manuscripts and rare recordings housed in the school’s Woodruff Library.

“We have extraordinary special collections at MARBL,” Magee said. “Rushdie is a great example of the materials we collect in our archives.  We have manuscripts and booklets, but we have his computer drives and disks and are working with him to determine what is there, how to arrange to make parts of it accessible to researchers.”

The papers of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Alice Walker can be found at MARBL and at the Raymond Donowski Poetry Library, which has a collection of more than 75,000 volumes of English-language poetry.

“We tend to think of these great artists as having artistic impulses,” Magee said, “but they are also very well grounded in artistic knowledge. To hear Rushdie speak about Charles Dickens, Natasha Trethewey speak about how the history of the South intersects with the history of race and segregation and the history of poetry allows you see the depth of their knowledge. That is one of the things we are always pleased to share with our students.”

Mission of advocacy

Morehouse School of Medicine provided its own forum for high ideals in October, when hundreds of physicians-in-training gathered in Atlanta for the American Medical Student Association’s “Empowering Future Physicians” conference, with Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general, as the keynote speaker. Satcher is now head of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

The conference, hosted by the school of medicine in cooperation with Georgia Health Sciences University’s Medical College of Georgia, featured a program designed by the future doctors through AMSA. Session topics included The History of Racism in U.S. Health Care, The Experience of Trans Folk in Health Care, and Advocating for Women’s Reproductive Health Care Rights and Access.

“The organization includes medical students and future medical students from across the nation who came together to advocate for patients in need,” said Dr. Martha Elks, senior associate dean for academic affairs and associate dean for undergraduate medical education at Morehouse School of Medicine. “Morehouse was an ideal setting for this conference, since our mission since our founding has been to address the needs of the medically underserved.”

In 2010, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine ranked Morehouse School of Medicine first among medical schools in the United States for its commitment to social mission — encouraging the training of primary care doctors whose practices will be distributed in medically underserved areas — and for training a sufficient number of minority physicians in the work force.

“We are so skilled in this area at Morehouse,” Elks said. “Intrinsic to our training program is our emphasis not only on the needs of the underserved, but curriculum nurtures skills in advocacy.  Some schools have a mission that sits on a wall. At Morehouse, our mission sits in our hearts.”

Elks said the conference was a great opportunity for medical students to network and get away from the “information grind” that goes with intense studies.

“One of the things about going to medical school is that sometimes you feel like you are the only one going through it,” Elks said. “Programs such as these can energize you to keep up the hard work of medicine, to keep up the process of medical school.”