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Wofford First-Year Students Go Through ‘Novel Experience’

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

SPARTANBURG, SC—Having dinner with fellow Wofford College classmates in a purportedly haunted former bank vault in a downtown Spartanburg restaurant certainly qualifies as a novel experience for anyone.

That recent dinner at Ellis, An American Bistro—part of a town-and-gown exercise initiated this fall by President Benjamin Dunlap—is only part of “A Novel Experience,” an innovative program for first-year students.

“A Novel Experience” encompasses shared experiences among the students—reading Charles Johnson’s National Book Award winning novel “Middle Passage,” enjoying dinner and discussion of the novel with humanities section classmates in a variety of local restaurants to become familiar with the community, writing papers on the novel, and hearing from the author himself.

Johnson will visit Wofford on Tuesday, Sept. 17, to deliver a convocation talk specifically for freshmen but open to the entire campus as well as to the community. The event will be at 11 a.m. in Leonard Auditorium in Main Building, and is free. Johnson will do a reading that evening at 7:30 p.m. in Leonard Auditorium. It also is free and open to the public.

“The idea is to give the students a common intellectual experience,” says Dr. John Cobb (Wofford class of 1976), director of the humanities program, “introduce them to the community at large by taking them out to the restaurants, bring an internationally known and tremendously respected writer to campus, and give the first-year class an experience that is both intellectually sophisticated and memorable. “

Cobb sees “A Novel Experience” as imbedded in an improved program of freshman humanities seminars that Wofford pioneered in the 1970s. “The idea is to teach writing and discuss skills around topics that help students confront moral values and issues,” he says.

Johnson, a professor of English at the University of Washington, has many South Carolina connections, and Spartanburg is the mythical setting of one of his other novels, “Oxherding Tale.” He and Wofford professor John Lane (Class of 1977) have appeared together in professional writing workshops over the years.

President Dunlap notes that “Middle Passage” is an important novel that speaks to “identity and how it is formed and defined, especially with regard to American culture. Especially, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, it raises significant questions about understanding our place in the world.”

USA Today recently featured the Wofford freshman reading program in an article about various summer reading programs throughout the country.