Hans Magnus Enzensberger & Tracy K. SmithA meeting of minds

Published in 2011clockTime to read: 4m55s
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What could a polymath patrician of German intellectual life have in common with a young, African-American poet? A lot more than you would think, but the singular truth is that it is their differences that seem to make the mentorship flourish.

by Philip Dodd 2011
  • Hans Magnus Enzensberger
    The Mentor
  • Tracy K. Smith
    The Protégé

The mentorship pairing of Tracy K. Smith and Hans Magnus Enzensberger works beautifully, even if a bald rehearsal of their differences means the odds ought to have been against it. It is not merely the age difference between them, but their histories: he is a German European, she an African American; she teaches at a university, Princeton, he is, using his own words, “not good at institutional life” – even though he knows that this has its downsides, not least the absence, sometimes, of a regular salary.

Perhaps it works because both have a pedagogic bent: he has been a distinguished editor and she is a teacher. Perhaps it works because they share terrains, poetry and now prose, but work over them in different, but complementary ways. Perhaps it is their common fascination with history and politics, however experienced differently. At one stage each of them are asked what they will take from the experience. Neither really knows, but they do their best to help the interviewer. “We are rich enough to squander,” says Enzensberger. “There is no dearth of ideas.”

Extracted from an article written by Philip Dodd, for Mentor & Protégé, a magazine documenting the 2010/2011 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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