May 5, 2006
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College will present two symposia in honor of Benjamin DeMott, the novelist, social and literary critic who died last year. An emeritus professor of English at Amherst at the time of his death, DeMott is remembered as a legendary teacher who brought his strikingly original mind to the reading of texts of all kinds. Part of the Amherst College Reunion Weekend, both events are free and open to the general public.

The first symposium, titled “Education, Educational Reform and the Liberal Arts,” will take place at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 1, in the Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall at Amherst College. The panelists will include the poet Philip Levine, emeritus professor of English at California State University, Fresno; Anthony W. Marx, professor of political science and president of Amherst College; Deborah Meier, professor of education at New York University; and Kim Townsend, the Class of 1959 Professor of English at Amherst, who was a colleague of DeMott’s.

“Social Class and Moral Character in Contemporary American Society” is the theme of the second symposium, which will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, June 2, in the Cole Assembly Room. Panelists will include Norman Birnbaum, professor emeritus at the Georgetown University Law Center and a colleague of DeMott’s at Amherst from 1968 to 1979; Adolph Reed, professor of political science in the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science of the New School University and at the University of Pennsylvania; and Richard Sennett, professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and of sociology and urban studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Born in 1924, DeMott studied as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University, where he earned a B.A. degree in 1949. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1953. DeMott taught at Amherst from 1951 until his retirement in 1990. A trenchant observer of the American scene, he wrote several works of cultural criticism, including Junk Politics: The Trashing of the American Mind (2005), Killer Woman Blues: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight about Gender and Power (2000) and The Trouble With Friendship: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight about Race (1995).