Berlin gift supports scholar studying the novelBy Josh Schonwald
The Division of the Humanities has received a $2 million gift to create its first distinguished professorship devoted to the study of one of the world’s most important and enduring genres: the novel.
The gift from Randy and Melvin Berlin will allow the Department of English Language & Literature to hire a prominent scholar working on the development of the novel in any period, or across periods. “It will enable us to hire a scholar whose concern with literary form will show students how and why the novel as a genre has retained its remarkable vitality,” said Bill Brown, the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of English Language & Literature. The professorship is titled the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Professor of the Development of the Novel in English Language & Literature.
“The Berlins are passionate readers who fully appreciate the density and complexity of great literature,” said Brown. “They recognize the power with which books pose particular questions and the patience it takes to see how those questions get resolved. Talking with them about books—about Austen or James or Nabokov—has been a distinct pleasure.”
Melvin Berlin, Chairman Emeritus of Berlin Packaging, LLC, and Randy Lamm Berlin (A.M.,’77), a retired attorney, are longtime supporters of the humanities, with a passion in supporting the Core program in university education.
Randy Berlin is Chair of the University’s Visiting Committee to the Division of the Humanities. For the past three years, she has taught law and literature at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where, she said, “I continue to proselytize for the humanities as an essential enrichment to the life of the mind.”
As to the focus of their gift, Randy Berlin said, “We chose to focus our professorship narrowly on the development of the novel in English because other specialists teach the Greek, Roman and European classics and poetry. But there is no chair for a professor who specializes in the study of masterpieces of the novel in the English language, of which there are so many glorious examples. Our intention was to plug that gap.”
As a graduate student at Chicago, Randy Berlin took classes with one of the world’s leading scholars of the novel, the late Chicago English professor Sheldon Sacks (Ph.D.,’60). She said that her encounter with Sacks’ neo-Aristotelian method of criticism and organization of the novel was revelatory.
“It was a new method of thinking about the subject and altered forever the way I read and teach and think about literature today,” she said. “At the least, I hope to give future students the opportunity to replicate my experience in understanding the masterpieces of the form and how the novel developed over time. Melvin and I feel a chair devoted to study of the novel will contribute to that end.”