Law and Literature Weekend Seminar

Russell Banks' "The Sweet Hereafter"

Law and Literature Weekend Seminar:Russel Banks' "The Sweet Hereafter" November 5 - 6, 2021


Over its 28 years, the Alumni College's Law and Literature Weekend Seminar has relied on a highly effective model: gathering professors and participants to study a single work of literature from legal, ethical and literary perspectives. The results are exhilarating. Each fall, the School of Law chooses a compelling text, assembles a team of professors, invites participants to Lexington and inspires a unique sharing of ideas and responses.

The Law and Literature program for 2021 will focus on Russell Banks's 1991 novel, "The Sweet Hereafter." Set in a small town in upstate New York, the novel explores the tragic aftermath of a school bus accident that has taken the lives of many of the town's children. Through Banks's skillful use of multiple first-person narratives, we enter the lives of the survivors, the grief-stricken parents and the lawyer hired to file a lawsuit seeking damages.

Banks's gripping novel, which was made into an award-winning motion picture of the same title, brilliantly illuminates the personal impact of the catastrophe on several characters: those involved in the accident, those who must now deal with the consequences and those who are now charged with seeking justice. For participants interested in the law, the novel also effectively explores the tort system (civil liability for wrongs). While the novel delineates the emotional and psychic damage wrought by the accident, it spends much more time on questions about liability, justice, the complexities of litigation and, ultimately, the process of healing. These and many other questions — including a surprising twist in testimony by one of the victims — are sure to inspire much discussion.

Teaching in the program will be law professors Brian Murchison and Dave Eggert, W&L alumna and author Kerry Egan '95, Dave Caudill from Villanova Law School, and Mikki Brock, W&L associate professor of history. As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the 2021 program will again seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. We welcome anyone interested in literature to this program — you don't need to be an attorney to attend.

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Office of Lifelong Learning
Washington and Lee University
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Lexington, Virginia 24450