Skype session with author Alexandra Styron illuminates father's work
11:11 a.m., Dec. 23, 2013--A literature class at the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning program in Lewes recently participated in an unexpected one-on-one conversation with Alexandra Styron about the life and work of her father, celebrated author William Styron, famous for novels like The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice.
A novelist in her own right, Alexandra Styron recounts her experiences growing up in a household often full of drama and turmoil in her memoir Reading My Father.
Partnership for change
It all started when Lewes instructors Gary and Margo Ramage received a copy of the memoir from a fellow Osher member who knew the Ramages would be covering Styron in their next course. After reading the book, the Ramages first decided to add the memoir to the course's syllabus, but soon began exploring the idea of inviting Alexandra Styron to visit their class via Skype for a question and answer session about her memoir and her father.
Styron agreed to participate, although it would be her first Skyped interview. To become acquainted before their virtual course session, the Ramages met with her in New York City, where Styron teaches memoir writing at Hunter College. They kept their plans a surprise from the class.
"Bringing a celebrity author and subject expert into the classroom for a live question and answer session was a highlight for our group and for us as course leaders," said Gary Ramage. "Alexandra was particularly generous with her time in NYC during our technical rehearsals, and with the lively and informative session with our class."
This wasn’t the first time the Ramages went into overdrive adding creative enrichment experiences to one of their literature classes. In 2010, their Thornton Wilder course included a virtual question and answer session with Thornton Wilder’s nephew, Tappan Wilder -- their first Skyped class activity at the time.
That semester also featured a class trip to UD’s Resident Ensemble Players' (REP) production of Wilder’s Our Town, and a special guest lecture in Lewes by the play's director, retired UD theatre professor Jewel Walker. Sanford Robbins, REP producing artistic director, and actors Michael Gotch, Kathleen Pirkle-Tague and Stephen Pelinsky also have traveled to Lewes for past Ramage-led courses on John Steinbeck and Readers' Theatre.
"Margo and I have been delighted with the enthusiastic, participative response of Lewes lifelong learning members to our ‘American Authors’ series," said Ramage. “We've gotten to know many class members well over the years, and we also continue to enjoy taking courses ourselves, sometimes led by past course members. Overall, Osher Lifelong Learning has been a major enrichment to our lives and our community.”
Their fall class "William Styron: Darkness, Confessions and Choice" had an enrollment of 74. This spring, they will lead a new American Authors course, "Cowboys and Indians," based on literature by and about cowboys and Native Americans. This will be the Ramages' 10th course for the Lewes lifelong learning program.
UD's lifelong learning program in Lewes will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014. The program was originally established in 1989 as the Southern Delaware Academy of Lifelong Learning. To learn more about the program, including spring 2014 courses, visit the website.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at the University of Delaware are membership organizations that provide opportunities for adults 50 and over to learn, teach, and travel with their peers. The only requirements for admission are interest in a continuing educational experience, support of the programs through participation, and a modest membership fee. UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes are located in Wilmington, Dover, and Lewes.