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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 3, 2012

Stewart to discuss book as art at Presidential Lecture Feb. 12

Garrett Stewart, James O. Freedman Professor of Letters in the Department of English in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), will deliver the 2012 Presidential Lecture, "Paper, Scissors, Ash: Defaced Books and the House of Fiction," at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, in the 4th Floor Assembly Halls at the Levitt Center for University Advancement. The event is free and open to the public.

The program will begin with a musical performance by Robert Monroe, a senior piano performance major in the School of Music in CLAS. UI President Sally Mason will introduce Stewart, who will speak for approximately one hour. A public reception including an exhibition of conceptual bookworks from the UI Libraries Special Collections will follow in the Wyrick Rotunda in LCUA.

Illustrated with more than 200 slides, the lecture will place the writing of Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate and premier re-constructor of America's darkest past, against the backdrop of altered books as a sculptural genre. These are texts defaced by conceptual artists through carving or charring so as to rethink both the material and the cognitive space of reading. Proliferating lately in what is generally seen as the looming eclipse of the printed book under the reign of digital technology, these museum works anticipate and resonate with Morrison's explicit efforts to re-imagine the book form as a palpable and uncanny dwelling for the historical imagination.

The event will be recorded for broadcast on UITV.

"Everyone is interested lately in the fate of the traditional book under onslaught from e-reading, and that interest takes the curious form, in a surprising amount of conceptual art, of manipulated and unreadable book sculptures that are neither aggressive nor elegiac exactly, neither putting the nail in the book's coffin nor mourning its demise, but instead developing spatial metaphors for the temporal experience of reading in its unique (whether or not enduring) form of the bound volume," says Stewart.

Stewart earned his doctoral degree in English from Yale University in 1971, with subsequent teaching positions at Boston University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as visiting professorships at Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Stewart has been the James O. Freedman Professor of Letters in the UI Department of English since 1993. He writes primarily on the British novel, literary theory, film, and art history. He was elected in 2010 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His latest of four critical works on Victorian fiction, Novel Violence, won the 2011 Perkins Prize from the International Society for the Study of Narrative. The Presidential Lecture grows out of his 2011 study, Bookwork: Medium to Object to Concept to Art.

The Presidential Lecture series provides an opportunity for distinguished faculty to present significant aspects of their work to members of the university community and to the general public. The university established this annual series to encourage intellectual communication among academic disciplines, and to provide a public forum for university scholarship, research, and creative achievement.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires reasonable accommodations in order to participate in this program, please contact the President's Office in advance at 319-335-0011. The lecture will be interpreted in American Sign Language.

For more information, visit or call Tom Dean with the UI Office of the President at 319-335-1995. For more information on Stewart, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Kelli Andresen, 319-384-0070,

PHOTOS: A high-resolution photo of Stewart is available on request.