The Miami Herald
April 20, 2001

Novelist Vargas Llosa to teach for 5 years at Georgetown University

 Washington Post Service

 WASHINGTON -- Mario Vargas Llosa, the renowned Latin American novelist and one-time Peruvian presidential candidate, has accepted a newly endowed chair in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown University, where he will teach graduate and undergraduate students.

 Vargas Llosa was one of the earliest avatars of the 1960s literary movement that included Gabriel García Márquez and Octavio Paz. Critics dubbed this stunning
 outpouring ``the boom,'' which also describes the effect when a university scores a coup in the competitive faculty hiring game.

 Bragging rights are asserted at the next academic conference. Prospective students in greater numbers dial up the admissions office. Perhaps the department creeps up a few notches in the grad-school rankings.

 ``I can't think of another university in this country that has a professor of this stature in the department,'' said Thomas Walsh, Georgetown's chair of Spanish and

 For Georgetown, the impact is especially welcome as a new president prepares to take over and the institution reflects on its progress toward achieving world-class
 status. Some faculty members have questioned Georgetown's commitment to making every department great and landing the big names necessary to accomplish it.

 Michael Gerli, the former chair of Spanish and Portuguese who left last year for a job at the better-ranked Spanish department at the University of Virginia, saluted his old school.

 ``It's a great thing for Georgetown,'' he said. ``It will certainly strengthen the humanities.''

 In the fall, the novelist will be the first occupant of the Ibero-American Literature and Culture Chair, endowed with about $2 million from various friends of the university. He will be a writer in residence, and will teach two courses a semester -- the normal load for a Georgetown professor.

 He will hold the chair for at least five years, although it has not been determined if he will teach every semester, says Sara Hager, special assistant to the provost for
 international initiatives.

 Vargas Llosa, 65, taught at Georgetown for a semester in 1994 and one in 1999. Hager got to know him then, and approached him about forging a stronger connection to the university. During those earlier visits, the university provided housing for the writer, who lives in London.

 Faculty and administrators say what is extraordinary is that Vargas Llosa is also a great teacher. It was obvious during his previous stints conducting seminars on
 subjects such as the novels of Julio Cortázar, and literature and politics.

 One semester he gave Walsh a sheaf of term papers to return to the students. Walsh was surprised to find that the novelist had written reactions and comments on every page.

 ``He's willing to devote a lot of time to working with students,'' Walsh said.

 ``Not all creative writers have the knack of what it takes to be a university professor.''

 ``I'll tell you the thing that stays most vividly in my mind,'' said Jane McAuliffe, dean of the college.

 ``Mario was here [in 1999] teaching and I was walking down the hall one day, and I saw him surrounded by a cluster of students who simply wouldn't let him get away, because the class that he had just taught had been so engaging that the students were simply enchanted.''

 Unlike some of his magical-realist peers, Vargas Llosa is considered a realist, an admirer of the sprawling novels thick with life composed by the likes of Melville, Tolstoy, Balzac and Faulkner.

 His works include The Time of the Hero, Conversation in the Cathedral, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, A Fish in the Water, and, last year, The Goat's Party, a novel about Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo.

                                    © 2001