Virtual book club launched

Book discussions by e-mail are the latest way that Kelly Writers House will be linking alumni and the parents of Alumni students with the academic ferment of the University. The discussions are a spin-off of Alumverse, a poetry discussion group conducted entirely via e-mail, which attracted more than 150 alumni. Alumverse operated from January to June 1996.

Both e-lit ideas were conceived by Kelly Writers House faculty director and Class of 1942 Professor of English Alan Filreis. “It is the natural next step,” Filreis said of the new book discussion group. “We wanted to create a learning community for alumni who wouldn’t be able to be involved otherwise.”

The new book-discussion program will begin in January and run for monthlong increments.

“The program is low-tech and very simple,” Filreis said. “Yet, highly effective.”

The effort is run pro bono with volunteer efforts by the participating professors and students active within the Kelly Writers House. Its only costs, supported with seed money from Richard Ross (C’82), employ someone handling the subscriptions on a part-time basis.

All a participant needs is an e-mail address.

One former “Alumverser,” Ingrid Philipp (CW’69), looks forward to having another chance to “sample Al’s electronic magic. He’s like an orchestra conductor who chooses a wonderful score and then brings out the best in each player,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I hope to renew conversation with some of the old Alumverse gang and meet some new on-line Pennpals.”

Authors to be discussed include Saul Bellow, Mary McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, Bernard Schlink, Bernard Malamud and Flannery O’Connor.

Discussion leaders include not only Filreis but Jim O’Donnell, professor of classical studies; Daniel Traister, adjunct professor of English and curator of research services in the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Kerry Sherin, Writers House director; and Ann Matter, R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Religious Studies.

In an experiment to create a regional intellectual community, a group geared toward New Yorkers will feature two Penn alumnae writers from New York City, Jennifer Egan and Ellen Umansky, with Filreis and Writers House Director Kerry Sherin leading.

For discussion details and sign-up information, see

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Originally published on October 14, 1999