A recent National Public Radio story told of an Afghani poet who, under the Taliban regime, read Islamic law on a government-owned radio station that played no music.
When the town was freed from Taliban control, the first thing the disc jockey broadcast on Radio Kunduz was the music of a countryman. He then praised the new government, denounced the Taliban — and read some poetry.
This man’s work is just the type of little-known art that Glenn Schaeffer, MA ’75 believes could be translated and shared with the world.
One of Las Vegas’ most successful businessmen, Schaeffer also is a great lover of books and contemporary writing. The CFO and president of Mandalay Resort Group is not only a leading executive in the gaming industry, but a literary executive in the world of scholars and publishers where luck cannot be found in a deck of cards or a roll of the dice.
But according to Schaeffer, the stakes are still high. “Literature changes things,” he says, “it has a civilizing influence on society.”
After Schaeffer graduated summa cum laude from UCI, he earned his M.F.A. from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and entered the business world. After a stint on Wall Street, he moved into corporate finance. Schaeffer joined Mandalay in 1983 and a year later at age 30 became its chief financial officer.
Committed to supporting writers internationally, and fostering the development of emerging writers from Third World and developing countries, Schaeffer founded the International Institute of Modern Letters in Las Vegas. He found a partner for his vision of literary activism in UCI’s School of Humanities and in Karen Lawrence, humanities dean. Not only is UCI his alma mater, but it is home to one of the most highly rated English and comparative literature departments, and creative writing programs in the country and is strategically located on the Pacific Rim. “Where better to found a program that features new and influential artists,” he says.
With a lead gift from Schaeffer, UCI established the International Center for Writing and Translation in the School of Humanities. The center will foster writing, translation and criticism in multilingual and international contexts. It also will support writers, translators and critics from around the world via short residencies, and by bringing them together for readings, performances, lectures and international conferences.
Schaeffer views literature as a form of social capital. Ideas in books can change how people choose to live and what they’re willing to live for. “This country, today the greatest economic force in world history, wouldn’t exist in the same way if two books, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, hadn’t been published and widely distributed. These books were community builders par excellence.”
The International Center for Writing and Translation at UCI will support writing, translation and research activities as well as graduate fellowships in creative writing and translation. Although many programs in the United States are dedicated to creative writing, their focus is primarily on writing in English or writing within the United States. Most translation centers are directed toward the technical aspects of translation, without seeing it as part of a broader process of cross-cultural transformation.
“The UCI center will have an international focus and define translation broadly as cultural exchange, placing us at the forefront of recent intellectual developments and enabling us to support research and activities not sponsored elsewhere in the country,” says Lawrence. “The politics and practice of cultural transfer are issues that concern many of our faculty, and questions of cultural identity are very relevant to our diverse, multiethnic student population at UCI.”
Schaeffer pledged funding for the center with a challenge for the school to raise matching gift amounts in coming years from other UCI alumni, friends and supporters.
“It’s literature, not the Internet, that reforms thinking across the globe,” says Schaeffer. “That’s been our history — the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment — the very history behind democracy and market economies has always followed the path of the book. The institute in Las Vegas and the center in Irvine will exemplify literary activism if we assist one more writer to be heard, read or proclaimed, and then another, and then another. The efficient laws of literature hold that the few can persuade the many.”
Inauguration events for the International Center for Writing and Translation were held April 4 and 5, 2002, in the School of Humanities. The first evening featured a reading by Nigerian playwright, poet and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and a talk by exiled Chinese poet and essayist Bei Ling. The following evening UCI professor and world-renowned philosopher and theorist Jacques Derrida and his translator Peggy Kamuf discussed the intricacies and importance of translation.