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Community Seminar Series

2017-18 Academic Year: Spring Semester

The Community Seminars and Lectures Series provides opportunities to read and discuss great works in the unique St. John’s manner. Our discussion-based learning model provides participants a fresh experience remarkably different from typical learning venues. The small, intimate setting ensures spirited dialogue where all participants have a voice. Seminars are open to curious minds from our surrounding community, including high school aged students and adults of all ages. The Community Seminars and Lecture Series is supported by the Carol J. Worrell Series on literature.

The following lectures and seminars are FREE and OPEN to the public.

See the Dean’s Lecture Series for more lectures open to the public.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Three Community Seminars and One Lecture

Seminars: “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Tutor: Julie Reahard, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Dates: Wednesdays, February 14, 21 & 28, 4:30-6 p.m.


“I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window-shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me.”

Exactly 200 years after it first appeared, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus is still a vital work of horror. We shall read and discuss the 1818 text, which more thoroughly explores the nature of life (and death), as well as the progressive social thought that was being debated in Mary Shelley’s early 19th century intellectual circle.

Registration required

Online Registration Coming Soon for Seminars

Lecture: “We Shall Be Monsters: Frankenstein and the Ugliness of Science”

Jeff Black, St. John’s College, Annapolis
Friday, March 2, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall
Free and open to the public

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a warning about the dangers posed to our happiness by modern science and technology. This lecture will argue that it is also, and more deeply, a meditation on the ugliness of the desire to know—a meditation conducted by way of a sustained engagement with the thought of one modern philosopher in particular. We will explore Shelley’s meditation by following the course of four educations depicted in the novel: that of Victor Frankenstein, that of the monster, that of the explorer Robert Walton, and that of the novelist herself.

Stanley Elkin: Four Community Seminars and One Lecture

Seminars: Three Masterpieces by Stanley Elkin

Tutor: Krishnan Venkatesh, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Dates: Wednesdays, March 28, April 4, 11 & 18, 6:30-8:30 p.m.


Perhaps the greatest American writer of the late 20th century, Stanley Elkin is also one of the least read great writers of our time. This series of four seminars, together with the upcoming Worrell Lecture by Joshua Kates, is intended to play a small part in remedying this infelicity. Described (by critic Josh Greenfield) as “at once a bright satirist, a bleak absurdist and a deadly moralist,” Elkin’s genius is in the small touches of style and observation that build into haunting, visionary fables. Our first two seminars will be on his deeply moving and piercingly funny novel The Magic Kingdom (1985), about Eddy Bale’s attempt to mourn his dead son by taking a group of terminally ill children to Disneyworld; the remaining two seminars will be on two novellas from Searches and Seizures (1973), “The Bailbondsman” and “The Making of Ashenden,” which have the power to shock and electrify by being horrifying, moving, and unbearably funny at the same time. In our discussions we will be addressing the moral complexity of Elkin’s vision, his psychological penetration, and the astonishing richness of his language. Texts: The Magic Kingdom, Searches and Seizures.

Registration required

Online Registration Coming Soon for Seminars

Lecture: “Persons and Parables: Stanley Elkin’s Menagerie”

Joshua Kates, Indiana University
Friday, April 20, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall
Free and open to the public

Stanley Elkin is perhaps the greatest stylist of English prose of whom no one, or nearly no one, has heard. Reasons for this can be found in his fictions. Though his narrators provide many realistic and telling observations of everyday life, their actual stories make it impossible to see them as people “like us,” or perhaps even persons at all. The obstacles Elkin’s plots pose to the formation of audience, however, themselves serve, I believe, as meditations on personhood—especially on the relation of individuals to the collective and of both to nature. Hence, making passing reference to the work of some recent philosophers, but mainly by way of careful detailed reading, this talk tries to make sense of some of the stranger features of Elkin’s stories: such as his “The Making of Ashenden” culminates with the main character having sex with a bear; or his “I Look Out for Ed Wolfe,” ends with a desperately lonely character mistaking a sexual advance for an occasion to attempt to reinvent chattel slavery.

More Information

Classroom location and reading assignments are provided after registration is confirmed. Seminars are limited in size. If a seminar is full, a wait list will be available for interested participants.

For more information, please contact Carolyn Kingston by phone at 505-984-6118 or e-mail at cbkingston(at)

Information and Policies

Lectures and Seminars are FREE and OPEN to the public.

Seminar enrollment requires pre-registration, as space is limited.

Who Can Attend

Seminars are free and open to all members of the greater community including 11th- and 12th-grade high school students. Space is limited in the seminar, so although free, pre-registration is required by phone, e-mail or online form.

Purchasing Materials

Texts are available for purchase at the St. John’s College Bookstore. Unless otherwise noted, participants are expected to obtain the reading materials and read before the seminar.