Letter from Our Director

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Biographers of Emily Dickinson believe she penned her often quoted poem about hope in 1861.  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

As the United States splintered over ethics and economics, perhaps Dickinson found consolation in the impossible endurance of seemingly delicate, fragile creatures—birds—no matter how buffeted they were by life’s storms.

Hope quietly sustained the work of the Obermann Center last year, too, despite the travails of our own historical moment. Our annual report is a glorious chorus of the accomplishments that faculty, students, staff, and community members were able to achieve this year with our support. It is also a gathering of quiet, determined tunes that sounded daily on Zoom through the unrelenting COVID tempest and attendant challenges.

As you look through the report, I hope you’ll be tempted to hover over newly hatched books and fascinating Working Group projects; don’t miss the lively video of Professors Lina-Maria Murillo and Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz discussing collaborative writing. You’ll meet inspiring graduate students and learn about ambitious plans for experiential, engaged, equitable graduate education. Local author and energetic Humanities for the Public Good Advisory Board member, Chuy Renteria, offers his perspective on this Mellon-funded initiative. In another video, Bria Marcelo, the Director of Diversity Resources and a frequent partner with the Obermann Center, describes the impact of the Liberating Structures workshops we offered, one of the many ways we supported the campus community during the early days of COVID. You can also savor the highlights video from the Obermann Conversations we co-produced with the Iowa City Public Library. Topics ranged from the hunger experienced by many of our students to the awe inspired by research in caves and underwater.

Working at the Obermann Center is a great pleasure thanks to the artists, scholars, and researchers who share their riveting work with us. Our Obermann team responds with creative ways to support and promote those diverse projects. Associate Director Jennifer New and Communications Specialist Jenna Hammerich created this song of celebration by publicizing activities all year and designing this report. Our stellar Administrator, Erin Hackathorn, kept us all safely balanced in an often-stressed nest. That nest was frequently feathered with the sage advice and encouragement of Ann Ricketts, our longtime liaison in the Office of the Vice President for Research. We send her off to her new position with deepest thanks and warmest good wishes.

And speaking of feathering nests, we are deeply grateful to those of you who continue to support the Obermann Center. We worked hard to live up to your expectations virtually, and we so look forward to seeing you again soon in person. We are a small but mighty organization; your generosity makes our work possible.

Finally, thank you to each and every one of you who participated in our programs, encouraged us with your enthusiasm, and reminded us that meaningful conversations, cross-disciplinary collaboration, breakthrough discoveries, and a murmuration of friends “never stops – at all.”

With all of our best wishes,

Professor and Director, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies