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2012 First-Years' Voltaire's Coffee Information

Fri, May 18, 2012
2012 First-Years' Voltaire's Coffee Information

2012 Freshman Voltaire's Coffees

Plan II freshmen are initiated into their first semester with small, informal, professor-guided book talks called Voltaire's Coffees. The professors we ask to sponsor these discussions select an eclectic and broad combination of texts, from history to philosophy, classics to pop culture, that you will read over the summer to discuss at the beginning of the fall semester. You will join the professor and a small group of your classmates in one or more Coffees, providing a wonderful opportunity for both a compelling discussion as well as a chance to meet your Plan II peers and some of the University’s best professors.

This year’s freshman VCs will be scheduled during the first two weeks of class, in the evenings from Monday, August 27th to Friday, September 14th.  Each Coffee typically lasts about 1.5 hours.

Incoming first-year students should read the book(s) for at least one Voltaire’s Coffee during the summer; however, you are allowed to read several books and to attend as many of the coffees that interest you, as long as space remains available and the VCs are not held on the same evening.  You can register for your top choices beginning July 19. Please note that two or more VCs may be scheduled on the same evening. Keep that in mind if you choose more than one book to read.

We schedule Voltaire’s Coffees during the first few weeks of classes; several VC’s will meet as soon as dorms open, in the first few days before classes begin.  Dates and  locations will be posted below before VC registration commences. Your registration confirmation email will contain the book, professor, meeting date and location for your specific VC(s).

For the VC’s that will be held in faculty members’ homes, maps will be available at Plan II office and carpools will be formed.

Every freshman is required to register for and attend at least one Voltaire’s Coffee (students may attend more than one if space is available). Due to other events we strongly encourage  or require you to attend, there will be no VCs on the evenings of Gone to Texas (Tuesday, August 28; Freshman Convocation, Thursday, September 6 which is required attendance; and Freshman Getaway on Friday, September 7, 2012. 

VC REGISTRATION will begin Thursday, July 19.

Registration will take place via a Google form. A few days before registration, you will get an e-mail from Plan II Honors with the link to the form, which will be opened to responses on the date of registration.  You will sign up for at least your top 3 choices. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, so it's in your interest to register promptly! All students should try to register by August 1, but we will accommodate as many people as possible as long as there is still space. 

Below is the tentative list of the Fall 2012 Voltaire’s Coffees reading list.  More information and instructions for VC registration (and transportation) will be posted in the coming weeks.  For now simply consider which books you’d like to read/coffees you’d like to attend. 

Jenny Kutner and Alex Fischer, P2SA Academic Co-Chairs,

VC dates and locations will be updated here continually as that information becomes available.

Titles of the VC books and names of the professors leading them follow (additional titles may be added). All updates as well as the full description of the book and a brief biography of the professor will be linked from the Plan II homepage:

1. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi’s, hosted by Dr. Alexandra Wettlaufer, Plan II Associate Director and professor of French & Italian

Monday, 27 August at 7pm, Wettlaufer Home (1410 Ethridge Avenue)

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.  Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom--Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.

Alexandra K. Wettlaufer is a professor of French and Comparative Literature, specializing in 19th-century literature and the visual arts.  She also serves as Associate Director of Plan II.  Her most recent book, Portraits of the Artist as a Young Woman: Painting and the Novel in France and Britain, 1800-1860 was published in March 2011.

2. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, hosted by Matt Valentine, Joynes Reading Room Coordinator and Plan II lecturer

Wednesday, 29 August at 7pm, Joynes Reading Room (map to Carothers, the Joynes Suite is accessed through the Honors Quad, the door is on the east side of Carothers)

Karen Russell dazzled readers with the short stories in her first collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. One of the youngest writers on the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" list, Karen Russell is more than a notable prodigy. Her novel Swamplandia! is not just good for a young writer—it is masterful writing by any measure, and was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Set deep in the Everglades, the novel tells the story of the Bigtree family, who run a tourist attraction featuring alligators (and alligator wrestling). The family is beset by tragedy and adventure.

Matt Valentine teaches a junior seminar on creative writing for the Plan II Program, as well as an elective course on photography. His writing and photography have been published in several newspapers, magazines, and books. Most recently, his photos have appeared in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Valentine also hosts the Joynes Reading Room Literary Series, which brings the very best writers from throughout the US and abroad to UT Austin to read from and discuss their work.

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, hosted by Dr. Janet Davis, professor of American Studies

Thursday, 30 August at 7pm, Little Green House (3010 Fruth Street) OR Joynes Reading Room

Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line—known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Rebecca Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta's death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people.

Professor Davis was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1964, three days after a devastating Alaskan earthquake triggered tsunami warnings across the Hawaiian Islands and beyond. She spent the majority of her childhood and young adulthood in the Upper Midwest—with intermediate stops on study abroad programs in Germany and India. From 1986-1989, Professor Davis worked as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines.  She finished her Ph.D. in U.S. History in 1998 and landed at the University of Texas that fall.  She is currently writing a book, The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America and teaches Introduction to American Studies, both halves of Main Currents in American Culture, and specialized seminars in U.S. social and cultural history; popular culture; animal studies; women’s and gender history; cultural approaches to U.S. foreign relations; and U.S. social movements. Professor Davis has won the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award (2004), as well as the Eyes of Texas Excellence Award (2000).

4. The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr by H.W. Brands, hosted by Dr. H.W. Brands, professor of History

Wednesday, 5 September at 5pm, Joynes Reading Room

Though he was a hero of the Revolutionary War, a prominent New York politician, and vice president of the United States, Aaron Burr is today best remembered as the villain who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. But as H. W. Brands demonstrates in this fascinating portrait of one of the most compelling politicians in American history, Burr was also a man before his time—a proponent of equality between the sexes well over a century before women were able to vote in the US. Through Burr's extensive, witty correspondence with his daughter Theodosia, Brands traces the arc of a scandalous political career and the early years of American politics. The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr not only dramatizes through their words his eventful life, it also tells a touching story of a father's love for his exceptional daughter, which endured through public shame, bankruptcy, and exile, and outlasted even Theodosia's tragic disappearance at sea.

Henry William Brands was born in Oregon, went to college in California, sold cutlery across the American West, and earned graduate degrees in mathematics and history in Oregon and Texas. He taught at Vanderbilt University and Texas A&M University before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History. He writes on American history and politics, with books including Traitor to His Class, Andrew Jackson, The Age of Gold, The First American, and TR. Several of his books have been bestsellers; two, Traitor to His Class and The First American, were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. He lectures frequently on historical and current events, and can be seen and heard on national and international television and radio programs. His writings have been translated into Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Ukrainian.

5. One Day All Children by Wendy Kopp, hosted by Professor Grant Thomas, KIPP/Plan II Partnership Coordinator

Wednesday, 5 September at 7pm, Joynes Reading Room

From her dorm room at Princeton University, twenty-one-year-old college senior Wendy Kopp decided to launch a movement to improve public education in America. In One Day, All Children... , she shares the remarkable story of Teach For America, a non-profit organization that sends outstanding college graduates to teach for two years in the most under-resourced urban and rural public schools in America. The astonishing success of the program has proven it possible for children in low-income areas to attain the same level of academic achievement as children in more privileged areas and more privileged schools.  One Day, All Children… is not just a personal memoir. It's a blueprint for the new civil rights movement--a movement that demands educational access and opportunity for all American children.

Plan II assistant adjunct professor Grant Thomas is a career educator whose major focus for the past 30+ years has been on systematic strategies for youth empowerment and service. He started the original PAL (Peer Assistance and Leadership) Program in Austin ISD in 1980, and guided its growth into a national model peer-mentoring program that has been implemented by hundreds of school districts throughout Texas and the nation. In 1994 he established YouthLaunch, an Austin-based youth empowerment nonprofit, and served as its Executive Director for nine years. A former board member of the National Association of Peer Programs, he also served on the board of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Austin Public Schools from 2003-2011. His educational background includes a B.A. from Princeton, magna cum laude (1967); an Ed. M. from Harvard (1974); and four years of graduate study in educational psychology at UT (1976-80). For the past five years he has overseen the Plan II/KIPP Partnership initiative, which centers on Plan II students' mentoring younger "KIPPsters" -- and in the process, becoming deeply immersed in issues related to educational opportunity and reform.

6.  Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, hosted by Dr. Michael Starbird, professor of Mathematics

Sunday, 9 September at 7pm, Starbird Home (7506 Valburn Drive)

In this stunning book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?  His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Michael Starbird is Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at The University of Texas at Austin. He received his B.A. degree from Pomona College in 1970 and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1974. That same year, he joined the faculty of the Department of Mathematics of The University of Texas at Austin, where he has stayed except for leaves as a Visiting Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey; a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of California, San Diego; and a member of the technical staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  He also teaches a Plan II mathematics course and regularly serves on the faculty panel for the Plan II Perspectives class in the Spring.  Within the Plan II community he is most beloved for his sense of humor, his colorful sweaters, and his infamous rendition of the Jabberwocky poem.

7. The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth. hosted by Dr. Robert Abzug, professor of History

Monday, 10 September at 7pm, Little Green House (3010 Fruth Street)

The Ghost Writer introduces Nathan Zuckerman in the 1950s, a budding writer infatuated with the Great Books, discovering the contradictory claims of literature and experience while an overnight guest in the secluded New England farmhouse of his idol, E. I. Lonoff. At Lonoff's, Zuckerman meets Amy Bellette, a haunting young woman of indeterminate foreign background who turns out to be a former student of Lonoff's and who may also have been his mistress. Zuckerman, with his active, youthful imagination, wonders if she could be the paradigmatic victim of Nazi persecution. If she were, it might change his life.  The first volume of the trilogy and epilogue Zuckerman Bound, The Ghost Writer is about the tensions between literature and life, artistic truthfulness and conventional decency—and about those implacable practitioners who live with the consequences of sacrificing one for the other.

Robert H. Abzug is Audre and Bernard Rapoport Regents Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Texas. He is the founding director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT. He received his BA magna cum laude from Harvard and PhD from University of California, Berkeley, and taught at Berkeley and UCLA before coming to Texas in 1978. In 1990-91, he held the Eric Voegelin Visiting Professorship at University of Munich. Abzug has been a Guggenheim and NEH Fellow and the recipient of other fellowships. At UT he has also served as chair of American Studies and director of Liberal Arts Honors.  Abzug’s research has traversed fields but is centered on aspects of the evolution of moral consciousness in American life. He currently teaches courses on American Jewish literature and music, America and the Holocaust, religion and psychology in American culture, as well as graduate seminars on the history of psychotherapy and photography in modern American culture.

8. The Magicians by Lev Grossman. hosted by Dr. Wendy Domjan, professor of Psychology

Monday, 10 September at 7pm, Joynes Reading Room

Harry Potter discovers Narnia is real in this derivative fantasy thriller from Time book critic Grossman (Codex). Quentin Coldwater, a Brooklyn high school student devoted to a children's series set in the Narnia-like world of Fillory, is leading an aimless existence until he's tapped to enter a mysterious portal that leads to Brakebills College, an exclusive academy where he's taught magic. Coldwater, whose special gifts enable him to skip grades, finds his family's world mundane and domestic when he returns home for vacation. He loses his innocence after a prank unintentionally allows a powerful evil force known only as the Beast to enter the college and wreak havoc. Eventually, Coldwater's powers are put to the test when he learns that Fillory is a real place and how he can journey there. Genre fans will easily pick up the many nods to J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, not to mention J.R.R. Tolkien in the climactic battle between the bad guy and a magician.

Wendy Domjan got her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1977. She has taught in the Psychology Department at UT since that time, with the exception of a five year period when she stayed at home raising her young children. She is now a Distinguished Senior Lecturer in Psychology , and was formerly the Assistant Director of the Plan II Honors Program.  She has won numerous teaching awards, including most recently the Regent’s Outstanding Teacher Award.

9. The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia? by Edward Albee, hosted by Dr. Paul Woodruff, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and professor of Philosophy

Wednesday, 12 September at 7pm, Woodruff Home (3204 Cherry Lane)

America's greatest living playwright has written this play about a falling in love, or having an epiphany, or something hard to explain.  Our hero, a successful architect, is unable to communicate with his family or his best friend.  How do you explain what love feels like?  How much can a father love his gay son?  And who is Sylvia?  (Warning: Adult themes)

Paul Woodruff has written a book about theater, translated a number of Greek plays, and crafted a few plays himself.  He also teaches philosophy.  In spare time he designs and builds furniture, plays the cello, and rows a single on Lady Bird Lake.

10.The Social Conquest of Earth by  E.O. Wilson, hosted by Dr. Austin Gleeson, professor of Physics

Thursday, 13 September at 7pm, Gleeson Home (4303 Endcliff Drive)

Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? In a generational work of clarity and passion, one of our greatest living scientists directly addresses these three fundamental questions of religion, philosophy, and science while “overturning the famous theory that evolution naturally encourages creatures to put family first” (Discover magazine). Refashioning the story of human evolution in a work that is certain to generate headlines, Wilson draws on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to show that group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution. He proves that history makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology. Demonstrating that the sources of morality, religion, and the creative arts are fundamentally biological in nature, Wilson presents us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition and why it resulted in our domination of the Earth’s biosphere.

Professor Austin Gleeson, a theoretical physicist, received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965.  He served on the faculty at Syracuse University and moved to The University of Texas in 1969.  He has served in a wide range of all faculty and administrative positions at The University.  He regularly teaches the Plan II physics course.  In addition, he has received many teaching awards including the 2000 Chad Oliver Award from the Plan II students and the 2008 Jeanne Holloway Teaching Excellence Award administered by the Ex-Students Association.

11. Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa, hosted by Dr. Henry Dietz, professor of Government and Latin American Studies

Friday, 14 September at 7pm, Dietz Home (4923 Strass Drive) OR Joynes Reading Room

Death in the Andes is Vargas Llosa’s perception of Peru during the time (1980’s) of the Shining Path movement, when Peru went through an extraordinarily difficult time politically and economically.  The book focuses on the extraordinarily deep divisions within Peruvian society – coast vs. highlands, indigenous vs. mestizo, etc. – and it a good introduction to Vargas Llosa, who won the Nobel prize for literature two years ago.

Henry Dietz has been traveling to and working in Peru since the early 1960s, when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer; he received his PhD in Political Science from Stanford University in 1975 and has been at the University of Texas since that same year.  Dr. Dietz has worked extensively studying urban Peru and urban poverty and politics, and currently teaches several courses on Latin American politics, including a Plan II junior seminar on democratization in the region.  He has won numerous teaching awards, including the Jean Holloway Teaching Excellence Award and induction to the university’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers. 

12.  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand hosted by Dr. Michael Stoff

Wednesday, 29 August at 7pm, Stoff Home (5906 Upvalley Run)

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

On May 17, 2008, at the Plan II Honors Commencement Convocation, President Bill Powers announced the appointment of Professor Stoff as the director of Plan II Honors through 2012. Michael Stoff served as the director ad interim from September 2006 until May 2008. Dr. Stoff is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Associate Professor in the Department of History. He received his doctorate from Yale University and serves as co-editor of the Oxford New Narratives in American History. Since 1998, Dr. Stoff has been involved with the Normandy Scholars program in which students study the Second World War in class and in Europe.

13. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, hosted by Dr. James Loehlin, professor of English and Shakespeare at Winedale Director

Tuesday, 4 September at 7pm, Loehlin Home (4013 Idlewild Road)

Stoppard's play is a comedy of ideas set in an English country house.  It takes place both in the present and 200 years ago, with the modern characters trying to reconstruct a mysterious scandal from the life of Lord Byron.  Arcadia touches on such varied topics as romantic poetry, landscape gardening, and chaos mathematics, but its real subject is the quest for knowledge.  It is a love story, a detective story, and a high comedy.

James Loehlin graduated from the UT Plan II program in 1986, and went on to study at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship and at Stanford, where he earned a joint PH. D. in Drama and Humanities in 1993. He is now Shakespeare at Winedale Regents Professor of English at UT.  He has written several books on Shakespeare and Chekhov.  He has won the Plan II Chad Oliver teaching award and is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.  He is Director of the Shakespeare at Winedale program, and enjoys frequently teaching for Plan II.

14. How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston, hosted by Dr. Richard Reddick, professor of Education

Tuesday, 4 September at 7pm, Joynes Reading Room

If You Don't Buy This Book, You're a Racist. Have you ever been called "too black" or "not black enough"? Have you ever befriended or worked with a black person? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is for you. Raised by a pro-black, Pan-Afrikan single mother during the crack years of 1980s Washington, DC, and educated at Sidwell Friends School and Harvard University, Baratunde Thurston has over thirty years' experience being black. Now, through stories of his politically inspired Nigerian name, the heroics of his hippie mother, the murder of his drug-abusing father, and other revelatory black details, he shares with readers of all colors his wisdom and expertise in how to be black. Beyond memoir, this guidebook offers practical advice on everything from "How to Be The Black Friend" to "How to Be The (Next) Black President" to "How to Celebrate Black History Month." To provide additional perspective, Baratunde assembled an award-winning Black Panel—three black women, three black men, and one white man (Christian Lander of Stuff White People Like)—and asked them such revealing questions as: "When Did You First Realize You Were Black?" "How Black Are You?" "Can You Swim?" The result is a humorous, intelligent, and audacious guide that challenges and satirizes the so-called experts, purists, and racists who purport to speak for all black people. With honest storytelling and biting wit, Baratunde plots a path not just to blackness, but one open to anyone interested in simply "how to be."

Richard J. Reddick, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration at The University of Texas at Austin, and is also the coordinator of the M.Ed. program in College and University Student Personnel Administration, where he was honored as a 2012 Outstanding Young Texas Ex by the Ex-Students' Association of The University of Texas. A 2010-2011 Career Enhancement Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Dr. Reddick and his research has been highlighted in The University of Texas at Austin's 2009 Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) Impact Report.  Dr. Reddick’s teaching and research focuses on qualitative inquiry of the lived experiences of African American faculty: specifically, how faculty negotiate their professional roles with their engagement with the wider community.  He also is interested in how faculty navigate the balance between providing essential community service as mentors to African American undergraduate students and their teaching and research obligations.  Dr. Reddick also maintains a keen interest in historically Black colleges (HBCUs) and the sociocultural adaptations of Black families in the U.S.  Prior to joining the UT faculty, Dr. Reddick worked in student affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, and Emory University.  Previously, he taught elementary and middle school in inner city Houston, in addition to training Teach For America corps members as a school director.  Dr. Reddick has co-authored and co-edited three books on the African-American family, historically Black colleges and universities, and the impact of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling on diversity in American education.  He has earned degrees from The University of Texas at Austin (BA and Distinguished Graduate of the College of Liberal Arts, Plan II Honors, 1995) and Harvard University (Ed.D., Higher Education, 2007, and Ed.M., Administration, Planning, and Social Policy, 1998). A proud Austinite, Dr. Reddick attended Del Valle, Travis, and Reagan High Schools, and graduated from Johnston High School with honors in 1990.  Dr. Reddick and his wife Sherry are the parents of two children. Dr. Reddick is on Twitter @DrRichReddick.


Additional Recommended Reading

The University will host several exciting authors and writers in the next year for lectures, classroom visits, readings, and workshops. Also, check the Plan II website's calendar of upcoming events regularly for monthly Voltaire's Cinema and Voltaire's Tea events.


PLEASE NOTE: All Voltaire’s Coffees will be completely handicapped-accessible. Although the majority of the Coffees will be held in the Texas Union or at professors’ homes, some coffees will be held in one of the seminar rooms of the Joynes Reading Room.

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