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Honorary Doctorate for Louis Begley

21 February 2008

Senate unanimously in favour of proposal from the Faculty of Modern Languages of the University of Heidelberg — Lecture by Louis Begley "What is the Value of One Man?” at the presentation ceremony on 8 February 2008

The Faculty of Modern Languages substantiates its proposal for conferring an honorary doctorate of the University of Heidelberg on Louis Begley by pointing out that he is not only one of the most important contemporary American writers but also an intellectual who has made significant contributions to public debate on literature and current affairs. Also, he plays a prominent role in cultural life, not only America but also in Europe, and in Germany in particular, both as a literary critic and as a commentator on other matters of import. In addition, he has done sterling service in furthering the cause of German literature in the United States.

Another major factor behind the proposal is that Begley was the first non-German writer to act as author in residence at the University, in 2006. Here Begley made a lasting impression with highly perspicacious accounts of his literary activities under the title "Between Fact and Fiction”. In an interview Begley revealed that it was the reputation of the University of Heidelberg that played an "enormously important role” in his decision to accept the invitation. With the honorary doctorate the University of Heidelberg hopes not least to cement the links created between Begley and Heidelberg by his presence as an academic teacher.

Louis Begley was born under the name of Ludwik Begleiter in Stryj (Poland, now Ukraine) in 1933 as the son of Polish Jews. His father was recruited to the Soviet army against his will, his paternal grandparents were displaced and murdered. Disguised as Polish Catholics, the young Ludwik and his mother hid from the Germans and thus escaped the Holocaust. After the Second World War the family emigrated to the United States. Begley studied law and literature at Harvard, practised as an attorney for a major international law office in New York and made his literary debut in 1991 with the much-acclaimed novel Wartime Lies, an account of his childhood experiences as a fugitivefrom the Nazis. Alongside numerous essays and works of literary criticism, Begley went on to produce the novels The Man Who Was Late, As Max Saw It, About Schmidt, Mistler’s Exit, Schmidt Delivered, Shipwreck and, last year, Matters of Honor. The year 2008 will see the publication of a major biographical essay on Franz Kafka entitled A Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head.

The ceremony at which the honorary doctorate will be presented to Louis Begley on 8 February will be opened by the Dean of the Faculty of Modern Languages, Professor Peter Paul Schnierer, and the vice-Rector of the University, Professor Thomas Pfeiffer. The laudation will be delivered by the Heidelberg Germanic Studies scholar Professor Helmuth Kiesel. Louis Begley’s speech of thanks is entitled "What Is the Value of One Man?” The ceremony is open to the public.

Please address any inquiries to
Holger Pils
Department of Germanic Studies
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/543214

Inquiries from journalists can also be addressed to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer
University of Heidelberg

Irene Thewalt
Editor: Email
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