On October 19-21, Claremont McKenna College will hold a centenary festival in honor of Czeslaw Milosz, one of the most influential literary figures of the twenty century. For three days CMC will host an array of important literary and political figures from current US Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin to polish political dissident Adam Michnik to Milosz’s own son, Anthony Milsosz.
For many students at CMC, however, the influence and brilliance of the man with the bushy eyebrows and hard to pronounce foreign name who appears on the college’s website is not well known.
“Milosz is a poet whose work has had an enormous impact on many writers and thinkers in the United States, Europe, and Asia,” said CMC Professor of Literature and Director of the Gould Center of Humanist Studies, Robert Faggen. “His writing has influenced many significant political leaders, including those involved in Solidarity [the Polish Trade Union].”
Born June 30th 1911 in Szetejnie, Lithuania, Czeslaw Milosz (pronounced Chezwhav Meewosh) is best known for his outspoken criticism of the communist regime in Poland. Immigrating to the United States in 1961, Milosz served as a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley from 1961 until 1998. Milosz died in Poland in 2004.
“Milosz was preoccupied with the survival of the human spirit and our possible relation to an eternal presence despite the destructive forces of both history and nature,” said Faggen. “[His work focused on] human freedom and equality, the relationship of the divine and the natural, the condition of exile.”
Milosz’s history with CMC is extensive. First visiting the campus in 1990 to give a lecture at the Athenaeum, Milosz continued to meet with students from CMC until his death in 2004. In 1998, CMC hosted the Milosz International Festival: The Exile in California. The festival, which Milosz himself attended, included poets and scholars from around the world. Articles about the festival appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and in every major paper in Poland.
Furthermore, a “Milosz Institute” devoted to the study of not only the author but of pertinent questions in the humanities has also been established at CMC in tandem with the Gould Center, which is a sponsor of the event.
With festivals celebrating Milosz occurring around the United States and Europe, Faggen points out that CMC’s festival is the most elaborate of its kind in the United States.
“The concept is to focus on Milosz’s poetry,” said Faggen. “It is an opportunity for writers to celebrate his work and to discuss different perceptions of him and his work in the United States and Poland.”
Participants for the event were chosen based on their engagement and interest in Milosz’s work and because they themselves are interesting writers. Students in particular will be able to benefit from the discussions and readings, which are designed to inspire further engagement with Milosz’s work and with poetry.
In addition to being free to students, faculty and staff of the Claremont Colleges, including meals at the Athenaeum, the festival is a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain an appreciation for a man whose words bridged the divide between political oppression and freedom for millions in Poland, if not the entire world.
For more information about the festival, please visit http://www.cmc.edu/milosz/