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English faculty duo promotes books discussion among Chautauqua Institution employees
Friday, November 13, 2015

English faculty duo promotes books discussion among Chautauqua Institution employees

Under the nationwide Books@Work banner, Fredonia English professors Emily VanDette and Iclal Vanwesenbeeck are spurring new literary exploration and discussion among Chautauqua Institution employees at the lake resort during its off-season.

    Drs. Iclal Vanwesenbeeck (left) and Emily VanDette of the Department of English.

Beginning in October, Dr. VanDette led weekly seminars that focused on “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” by Diane Akerman, which recounts how more than 300 Jews were saved during the late 1930s by the operators of a zoo that was destroyed during the German invasion of Poland.

Dr. Vanwesenbeeck launched a new round of seminars in mid-November devoted to, “The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows,” by Brian Castner. In his book, the Buffalo-based author chronicles his experience as the lead of a military bomb disposal unit in Iraq and his struggles after his Iraq experience.

Through the non-profit Books@Work, literature seminars led by professors are brought into work places and community settings with the goal of building confidence, critical thinking communication, collaboration and creativity. Seminar participants choose book selections from a set of options offered by each professor.

A diverse range of Chautauqua employees, from recent college graduates to office staffers to senior administrators, signed up to attend the weekly gatherings held at Chautauqua’s Turner Community Center. Having such a broad demographic in the group delighted VanDette, who enjoys hearing different perspectives about the same book from readers who are consistently prepared and eager for discussion.

“I found it invigorating to witness the power of a reading experience to bring people together in lively and thoughtful conversation in their workplace,” VanDette added.

“Leading these seminars reaffirms my belief in the transformative power of reading and conversation, as the participants share meaningful responses and learn a lot about each other and about the narratives we read,” she explained.

“The participants seem to get a lot out of hearing each other's ideas about the book, and they seem to value the opportunity to discuss their different interpretations,” VanDette said.

Comments that Vanwesenbeeck receives echo those sentiments, and she adds that the program has introduced readers to books that they would not have otherwise read. “We get great feedback from the participants who find the experience edifying and eye-opening, and of course, enjoyable,” she said.

Last summer, VanDette also presented highlights and insights from her previous Books@Work experience on a panel at Chautauqua Institution, and she and several Fredonia faculty who led Books@Work seminars last year shared reflections at Fredonia's Teaching & Learning Conference in August.

More information about Books@Work is available at

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