Spotlight: Marina van Zuylen, National Academic Director
Professor Marina van Zuylen fell in love with the Clemente model during her time teaching at Columbia University. After reading Earl Shorris' article in Harper's Magazine, Marina realized that she wanted to help bring the beauty and urgency of the humanities to students outside the traditional classroom. This prompted her to leave Columbia for Bard College, an early supporter and champion of Clemente. At Bard, Marina was able to teach Clemente in a variety of locations—Poughkeepsie, Dorchester, and presently, Kingston.
In addition to serving as Clemente's National Academic Director, Marina still teaches a Clemente Course in Kingston, NY. Get to know Marina with our quick Q&A!
What makes Clemente and the study of the humanities special to you? Teaching literature is always an extraordinary experience, but with the Clemente students, one often feels that the writers and philosophers we take for granted have become lifelines. How many times have I heard: “the Clemente Course is like leaving Plato’s cave”; "because of Virginia Woolf, I realize that all aspects of my life can make it into a book"; "museums are like welcoming churches, not intimidating sacred spaces." Seeing students gain confidence through the sheer joy of sharing their opinions, being listened to, and then processing what they have discovered with their fellow students, is an unparalleled experience.
Please share a favorite Clemente memory, or a favorite "fact" about the program that makes you proud to share your time and support!
My favorite memory involves a former Clemente student, Peter, who didn’t show up in class one day. I tracked him down to the local hospital. He was on a respirator with tubes in his arm. When I asked him how he was, what had happened, he pulled out the oxygen tube and gestured to the book on his bedside (Melville’s Billy Budd), whispering: “How did the discussion go. I can’t believe I missed it.” I realized that the oxygen he felt he needed the most was between the covers of the book. He recovered and is one of the most avid readers I know.
What do you do outside of the Clemente universe? My hobbies usually involve setting up playdates with dogs, gardening, and reading a combination of novels and philosophy.