Washington University is known for many things — among them its high academic standing, its research, its collegiate Gothic architecture.
But what many people may not realize is that the University is home to the largest single collection of German contemporary literature in the United States. It also has one of the best graduate departments in German literature and culture in the country, thanks in large measure to the efforts and commitment of Paul Michael Lützeler.
Lützeler, Ph.D., the Rosa May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities and professor of German and comparative literature in Arts & Sciences, was born in a small German Rhineland town. He came to the United States in 1968.
After earning a doctorate in German literature at Indiana University in 1972, he moved to St. Louis and is now beginning his 30th year at Washington University.
He founded the European Studies Program in Arts & Sciences, and he directed the program for more than 20 years with the help of administrative assistant Ellen Feinstein. More than 80 students have graduated with a master’s degree from the program since its inception.
Lützeler has organized or co-organized five international symposiums and invited many visiting professors to the Hilltop Campus, supported by the Fulbright Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Swiss foundation Pro Helvetia.
Last year, Lützeler started a new scholarly yearbook on contemporary German literature.
But the accomplishment for which he is most noted is the founding of the Max Kade Center for Contemporary German Literature in 1980.
“Together with Egon Schwarz, I had organized a symposium on contemporary German literature at the University,” Lützeler says. “I found out that our holdings in contemporary German literature were not very good. Things needed to be improved, but there was no additional money available.”
Lützeler began writing to German publishers, telling them he wanted to establish a collection of contemporary German literature and asking them to send copies of their recent production. Most of the publishers agreed with the concept.
“We now have 150 publishers from German-speaking countries that contribute to the collection,” he said.
He administers the collection with the help of Hanne Spence, his administrative assistant, and with support from Olin Library and the Max Kade Foundation in New York.
“Without the cooperation of Olin Library,” Lützeler says, “we would not have been able to maintain the collection.”
The Suhrkamp Publishing Co., the most prestigious publisher in Germany, has granted the center the “Suhrkamp/Insel Collection.” It contains all publications of the company since 1980 — a sort of “treasure within a treasure,” according to Lützeler.
The center is part of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures in Arts & Sciences in Ridgley Hall. In addition to its literary holdings, the center sponsors a visitor’s program.
Every year since 1985, the center has invited one prominent writer and one leading critic from a German-speaking country to teach a graduate course on contemporary German literature. The visitors are supported by a grant from the Max Kade Foundation.
Furthermore, the center organizes weekend seminars for doctoral students and young faculty members from all over the country. Financial support for these seminars came from the Thyssen Foundation in the past and now comes from the Volkswagen Foundation.
The center is also able to give summer grants to doctoral candidates and faculty members from other American universities thanks to support from the Suhrkamp Foundation, the Max Kade Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service.
“Mike (as Lützeler is known by friends and colleagues) is a man of phenomenal energy who belongs to the leading scholars of German literature and culture of his generation,” says Lynne Tatlock, Ph.D., professor and chair of Germanic languages and literatures. “His vision has played a vital role the shaping of our present-day German department and particularly in establishing, enhancing and maintaining our German graduate program.
“He has never been one to be content to rest on his laurels and is not only continually setting out in new directions in his teaching and scholarship, but is also unfailingly willing to pitch in the day-to-day tasks of keeping a complex department running well.”
Lützeler’s interest in comparative literature began at a young age while he was still a student in Germany.
“I developed a very early love for literature and studied German, English and history at several European universities,” he says.
After an exchange year at Indiana University, Lützeler decided he wanted to become a professor at an American university.
“I got to know the American higher-education system and realized I liked it much better than the German system,” he says.
Lützeler has four main areas of research interest: German and European romanticism; exile literature; European identity; and of course, contemporary German literature.
Lützeler has studied extensively the life and works of Hermann Broch, a Jewish/Austrian author who left Austria in 1938 and fled to the United States, where he lived and wrote until his death in 1951. Lützeler wrote Broch’s biography, edited his collected works in 17 volumes and wrote several essays on him. For the Broch biography he received the DAAD prize of the German Studies Association.
Lützeler has also examined and documented how European identity developed, concentrating especially on the contributions of writers and novelists. He has published nine books and numerous editions, several of which deal with the interrelation between literature and history, and with contemporary scholarly discourse in the humanities. Some of his books have been translated into English, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.
His tireless work in his fields of study has not gone unnoticed. For his work on Hermann Broch, he received the Austrian Medal of Honor in Arts and Sciences, First Class and in May 2002, he was awarded the German Cross of Merit, First Class.
Lützeler is an honorary member of the American Association of Teachers of German, an organization that gave him the Outstand-ing Educator Award, and is a member of two German Academies of Arts and Sciences. He has won a Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award from the University.
Among the many grants he has received are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies. He has been a visiting professor at leading schools in Europe, Australia and the United States.
“I have a great deal of respect for Professor Lützeler’s continued interest in the progress of scholarship in the field of German,” said Sarah McGaughley, a graduate student in the department who is currently working on her dissertation. “He offers critical feedback on any and all projects that students present to him and most importantly, encourages further exploration in the field.”
Paul Michael Lützeler
Years at the University: 30
Hobbies: Ice skating, jogging, mountain hiking, reading history and visiting art museums
Notable: Founder and former director of the European Studies Program in Arts & Sciences; founder and current director of the Max Kade Center for Contemporary German Literature
Lützeler has helped to build several cultural exchange programs between the University and schools in Germany, including the University’s formal relationship with Tübingen University, and he established the Suhrkamp Fellowship and the Piper Fellowship for graduate students in the German department.
When he isn’t teaching and traveling, Lützeler enjoys ice skating, jogging and mountain hiking. He reads a lot, especially history books, and has a passion for art.
“Whenever I go somewhere, I always make sure to see the local art museum,” he says.
Lützeler visits Germany quite often, especially in the summer. “It’s simply too hot in St. Louis in the summer,” he quipped.
Though Lützeler has had offers to move to other places, he has never accepted them.
“I’ve always preferred Washington University,” he says. “I definitely think the University is on the right track.
“There has been an enormous improvement in resources and facilities on campus since I came here. I have also been granted a great deal of freedom to develop programs and start the (Max Kade) center.
“When you come up with good ideas, the University is very open to hearing them.”