Authors in good company at Stanford

(Credit: thinglass/
(Credit: thinglass/

For 13 years, PETER STANSKY, professor emeritus of history, has brought to the Stanford community “A Company of Authors,” the speed-dating version of a book fair.

This year’s event was held April 16 at the Stanford Humanities Center, where scholars from various disciplines discussed their recently published books with an audience of more than a hundred eager listeners. For those who wanted to purchase the books discussed, the Stanford Bookstore was on hand to sell discounted copies of each featured title.

Each author gave a brief presentation before taking questions from the audience, encouraging conversation.

The annual half-day salon is part of the Stanford Continuing Studies program and is co-sponsored by the Humanities Center. As in previous years, Saturday’s event was divided into seven panels that covered themes as varied as the life of JONAS SALK, a WWI training camp near San Francisco, female friendships and wife-selling in the Qing dynasty.

“This joyful event lets Stanford faculty and affiliates share the human story behind their books,” said history Professor CAROLINE WINTERER, director of the Stanford Humanities Center.

“There’s so much more to being an author than just putting words on a page: There is the original spark of an idea, the long years of research and thinking, the editing process and, finally, a book between covers. It’s wonderful to share snapshots of this journey with the authors,” she added.

Among this year’s 28 participants was SUSAN KRIEGER, a scholar of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, whose book Come, Let Me Guide You: A Life Shared with a Guide Dog confronts the looming retirement of her guide dog Teela and the relationship they developed over 10 years together. Teela, a golden retriever–yellow Lab, and Fresco, Krieger’s new guide dog, joined Krieger on Saturday for the event.

Stanford conductor JINDONG CAI and his wife, SHEILA MELVIN, discussed their work, Beethoven in China: How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People’s Republic. Their co-authored book is a diminutive one, but tells the big story of how Beethoven’s music was introduced to China in the early 20th century and how it shaped historical movements and helped normalize U.S.-China relations.

ROBERT CREWS, associate professor of history, challenged the common opinion of Afghanistan as a country frozen in time and forsaken by the world when he discussed his new book, Afghan Modern: The History of a Global Nation.

Literary and cultural journalist CYNTHIA HAVEN presented on “The Wonderful World of Books at Stanford,” focusing on the success of Stanford’s Another Look book club, which brings Bay Area readers together to discuss such works as JAMES BALDWIN’S The Fire Next Time, JANET LEWIS’s The Wife of Martin Guerre and, on May 10, JOSEPH CONRAD’s short novel The Shadow-Line.

Haven, who recently finished a forthcoming biography of philosopher RENE GIRARD, and blogs at The Book Haven, has been participating on panels at a Company of Authors for six years straight. She contends that the 2016 event was the best so far.

“The author presentations were eloquent and excellent, without exception, and the audience questions ensured the discussion was spirited and intelligent,” Haven said.