Baker professors introduce the Swogger Literary Salon to campus


Rebekah Nelson

Associate Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Nicholaus Pumphrey will host the Swogger Literary Salon on Nov. 11. Pumphrey will focus on John Steinbeck’s novel “East of Eden.”

A group of Baker University professors has come together to create the first literary salon offered to all of campus. This is a time for those on campus to come together and expand their knowledge of the arts. Literary salons were popular literature, music and art events in the 18th and 19th centuries. Friends and those well known in the subject would come together to discuss and learn about topics.

The idea of introducing a literary salon was presented by Dr. Joanne Janssen, Associate Professor of English. After presenting the idea to the primary text faculty, Dr. Nicholaus Pumphrey, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Professor Emily Kasprzak, Assistant Professor of Theater, joined the team. “It’s a thing that the faculty of the primary text program is really excited about,” Janssen said.

The Swogger Literary Salon was named after Glen Swogger Jr., a major donor to the Primary Texts program. Swogger passed away this past August and, according to Janssen, this was seen as a way to honor his dedication to the program and Baker as a whole.

Janssen has great knowledge of the history of literary salons, so if they were bringing a literary salon to campus, she wanted to do it right. As such, she and the other professors are taking the time to make the atmosphere is as inviting as possible.

“We’re actually going to decorate the stage area [Rice Auditorium] to create an environment that feels more intimate, cozier and more home-like,” Janssen said. “We want to make it a place where anyone on campus who is just interested in broadening the life of the mind will feel welcomed and interested.”

Refreshments will also be offered throughout each event.

Literary salons are not new to Kasprzak. During her Quest classes, she would have her students put on a literary salon, as she believes they are an important and new way of learning. She is excited to bring such events to campus other than in a classroom environment.

“I think literary salons, and what we are trying to do, is encourage students to just learn and discuss for the fun of it, the growth aspect, the being more cultured aspect; not necessarily for a grade. I think that this is a fun way to do that,” Kasprzak said.

Pumphrey will be the first host, presenting and leading the discussion on his topic “Thou Mayest”: John Steinbeck’s Life, Work, and the Use of Hebrew in East of Eden.

“I chose this topic because it was something I was familiar with,” Pumphrey said. “This was part of my Ph.D. exam, so I just pulled up my notes from like 8 years ago.”

Pumphrey is hoping for engaged discussion. Participants are not expected to have read the book, but listen to the main idea of the story and be able to share personal thoughts.

“One of the things that’s really interesting in [“East of Eden”] is that [Steinbeck] translates Hebrew in the text and has this whole discussion about whether or not we are bound by our destiny,” Pumphrey said. “The Hebrew word that he uses is ‘timshell’ which means, for him, ‘you are able.’ He’s trying to basically say we are not necessarily bound by our destiny.”

Junior Carson Pittman, an English major, looks forward to attending the event, as this will be her first literary salon. She is excited to learn more about John Steinbeck in this type of environment.

“John Steinbeck is a super important American author, so I feel like I should have more knowledge about him and being able to learn about it in a fun way,” Pittman said. “I know that going to an event like this, I’ll retain the information more than if I was just studying on my own.”

Students learning something from this unique presentation and discussion is important to both Pittman and Pumphrey.

“I hope you can find enjoyment in stuff like this, but also that there could be hidden meanings or new and interesting ways to read things. It’s not just an interesting story, it could be more,” Pumphrey said.

The Swogger Literary Salon will be held on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in Rice Auditorium.