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~Wellesley College To Host George Orwell Centenary Conference May 1-3~

For immediate release:
March 19, 2003

Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- On May 1-3, a number of the world's eminent scholars and writers will gather at Wellesley College to honor and examine one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. The "George Orwell Centenary Conference: An Exploration of His Work and Legacy" is the largest single event on Orwell in the world on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Orwell is an esteemed writer who both liberals and conservatives agree had tremendous importance for understanding many of the important political, cultural and social events of his time. In addition, his writings remain uncannily relevant to understanding current world events.

"Orwell was one of most honest and probing public intellectuals of the 20th century," said conference co-chair Thomas Cushman, a Wellesley sociology professor. "His ability to subject all sides in political debates to criticism made him many enemies, but his intellectual probity remains a model for the contemporary life of the mind."

Orwell's books, such as 1984 and Animal Farm, were among the most influential books of the 20th century. His well-known phrases, such as "Big Brother is watching you" and "Some animals are more equal than others," have made a permanent imprint on the public mind. The word "Orwellian" has come into common usage to describe totalitarian societies and practices. His essays continue to provide insights into today's most heated and contentious issues.

Wellesley English professor William Cain agrees. "Orwell wrote sharp, vivid essays about the major events of his era-he was much in the midst of the immediate crises and controversies of the 1930s and 1940s," he said. "Yet his work remains fresh and timely, perpetually relevant. He set a standard for political writing that no one since has rivaled. Orwell was the indispensable cultural critic and political writer of the 20th century, and his presence today, as an example and influence, is as powerful as ever."

Conference co-chair John Rodden, author of George Orwell: The Politics of Literary Reputation and Scenes from an Afterlife: The Legacy of George Orwell, notes that Orwell remains a role model for the world's "secular intellectuals."

"It's almost as if intellectuals have felt compelled to construct an intellectual pedigree that they can trace back to Orwell," he said. "Orwell is a great inspiration for his intellectual integrity and a model of someone who lived what he wrote and wrote out of the depths of his experience. Many readers feel an urge to identify with him and, as a result, they project on him their needs and aspirations. In today's political climate, if they can have him support their views on the war, for example, it bolsters their own credibility. If he is every intellectual's 'big brother,' it lends weight and authority to have him on your side."

The conference reflects that diversity, featuring scholars and writers who represent a range of positions on the political spectrum, including liberal thinker Christopher Hitchens, author of the current best-selling book, Why Orwell Matters, who will give the keynote address.

The more than 30 speakers include Susan Sontag, writer and human-rights activist; Robert Conquest, Stanford University Russian scholar; and Todd Gitlin, Columbia University authority on the media and society. In addition to Cain and Cushman, Wellesley professors Lawrence Rosenwald and Margery Sabin, English; and Jonathan Imber, sociology, will speak.

Participants must register by sending their name and address to Free to the Wellesley College community, the registration fee is $150 for the general public and $50 for non-Wellesley students with a valid student I.D. For more information, go to the web site at or e-mail Members of the media are invited to cover the conference.

Founded in 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in liberal arts and the education of women for more than 125 years. The College's 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students.


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