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Lifelong Learning at Swarthmore

Professor Hansjakob Werlen

A Message from the Director

Dear Friends of Lifelong Learning, 

At the conclusion of our last class on "Faulkner's Masterpieces" - magisterially taught by Phil Weinstein - I once again marveled at literature's power to provide deep insights into human experiences that are far removed from our own. Faulkner made sure that we had to patiently work for this knowledge but I believe the effort invested took us, with Phil's help, on a powerful journey of discovery.

We embark on a new journey this fall with Professor Peter Schmidt's "Short Stories in the US."  The description of this engaging class is below. In order to encourage everyone's participation, we are retaining the tiered registration fee arrangement.  The class registration fee is $100. However if, for whatever reason, you are unable to pay the class fee of $100, please consider a reduced contribution ($75, $50, or $25) for your place in the class. Please join me on this stimulating new voyage this fall.

As always, thank you for your support.

Hansjakob Werlen
Director, Lifelong Learning Swarthmore

As we navigate COVID quarantines, lockdowns, and disconnection, reading classic and contemporary horror stories, where the most traumatic events pass for “normal,” can serve as counter-spell and cure. In addition, we’ll read tales of resilience, reconnection, and forgiveness. Our eight weeks of the classes will concentrate on celebrated and emerging twentieth- and twenty-first century authors, organized around themes such as “Suburban Dreams and Nightmares,” “Technology and Human Consciousness,” and “Black Storytelling Matters."

This survey of classic and contemporary short stories by U.S.- based authors will be arranged both chronologically and thematically. Two to four stories will be assigned each week, plus selected brief background readings. More information on these authors and their careers can be found on Wikipedia, which in the case of these authors is generally reliable. In addition, brief theoretical texts by Baldwin, Piglia, Poe, Faulkner, Paley, and Sontag will be recommended reading.

The class will be taught via Zoom by Prof. Peter Schmidt, Russell R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English Literature, Swarthmore College. Each class will begin with an introductory lecture on the authors and stories followed by a Q & A session for the remainder of the class. Participants can also email their questions in advance. Study questions may be posted online in advance for some readings to guide participants before class.

Week 1:  Four 19th-Century Horror Tales

  • Edgar Allan Poe, "The Telltale Heart"
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown"
  • Mary Wilkins Freeman, "Old Woman Magoun"
  • Charles W. Chestnutt, "Po' Sandy"

Week 2:  A Different Take on Horror:  1960s Analyses of White Racism

  • Eudora Welty, "Where is the Voice Coming From?"
  • James Baldwin, "Going to Meet the Man"

Week 3: Suburban Dreams and Nightmares

  • John Cheever, "The Swimmer"
  • Gish Jen, "In the American Society"

Week 4:  Two Spanish-speaking Authors You Should Know (stories written in English)

  • Lucia Berlin, “Toda Luna, Todo Año"
  • Cristina Henríquez, “Everything is Far From Here”  

Week 5:  Queer Lives Matter

  • Armistead Maupin, chapters 1 and 2 from "Michael Tolliver Lives"
  • Carmen Maria Machado, "The Husband Stitch"

Week 6: Technology and Human Consciousness

  • John Cheever, "The Enormous Radio"
  • Ken Liu, "Thoughts and Prayers"

Week 7: Black Story-Telling Matters

  • Kiley Reid, "George Washington's Teeth"
  • Nafissa Thompson-Spires, "Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology"

Week 8: "It's Baaackkkk!": Contemporary Horror

  • Joy Williams, "The Visiting Privilege"
  • George Saunders, "Ghoul"

WHEN:  Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (Eastern time) for eight weeks on the following dates: Sept 23, 30; Oct. 7, 21, 28; Nov. 4, 11, and 18.

All classes will be recorded for participants. Participants will need to download Zoom to their computers to participate. A link to enter the class will be emailed several days prior to the first class to all registrants. 

To Register and Pay Online, Please Click the Button Below: Register For Short Stories

To Register and Pay By Check:

Please make out your check to:  Swarthmore College.  Add a note on the memo line of the check stating that it is for "LLS Short Stories Class"

Send your check to: Swarthmore College Attn: Gift Records, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA  19081


Other Program Details

  • Courses taught by senior or emeriti members of Swarthmore College faculty and other experts.

  • Courses offered in each of the divisions of the College: humanities, social sciences, natural sciences/engineering.

  • No grades, no academic credit, just learning for learning's sake.

  • Open to everyone: alumni, their adult family, friends, Swarthmore College staff, and all friends of the College are welcome.

  •  Virtual classes are not limited in number of participants.

Questions? For questions about course material, contact Professor Hansjakob Werlen at For all other questions, contact Marty at