Delving into Jewish Culture
Leslie Morris smiled as she talked about how she came to the German, Scandinavian, and Dutch department by a “very circuitous route.” She grew up in Chicago in a family in which French and Hungarian were spoken, but resolved to receive her BA in English at Smith College. “However, I was somehow bitten by the bug of German in my last year of college,” she explains. “As soon as I graduated I left for Germany.” She had found her vocation, and she received her PhD in German Studies when she returned to the United States. After teaching at Bard College in New York, Morris joined the University of Minnesota in 1998.
Morris describes herself as a comparatist, as a lot of her teaching and scholarship has revolved around setting German literature in a broader European and Anglo-American context. Her main areas of scholarship have been post-1945 German and Austrian literature and culture, with an emphasis on poetry and the aftermath of the Holocaust.
Her scholarship explores the fault lines between German studies, Jewish studies, and Holocaust studies. “I’ve written extensively about the ways in which those fields inform each other and have an impact on each other. I’m fascinated by the complexity of Jewish culture in Central Europe, particularly in Germany,” she explains.
Morris is putting the finishing touches on two publications that are set to be released in the near future. A co-edited volume with Jay Geller will be coming out this fall with the University of Michigan Press entitled, Three Way Street: Jews, Germans, and the Transnational, which grew out of a collaborative series of projects from the German Studies Association. The second publication, near completion, is titled The Translated Jew: Jewish Writing Outside the Margins. Last spring, while a fellow at the U of M’s Institute for Advanced Study, she began work on a hybrid-experimental memoir that moves between prose poetry, memoir, and philosophical inquiry, and has at its center an extended rumination on loss, memory, narrative, knowledge and family secrets. This project is an attempt to grapple not only with a buried family history and a mysterious illness she had, but more broadly with the very questions that have animated her scholarship for the past decades.