Tom Wolfe Weekend Seminar

"The Lincoln Highway"Featuring the Author Amor Towles

April 28 - 29, 2023


Amor Towles
Photo by Amor Towles 

This year marks the 18th annual Tom Wolfe Weekend Seminar, W&L’s ultimate book club. Sponsored by the W&L Class of 1951 in honor of their late classmate Tom Wolfe, the program features a distinguished writer and observer of the American scene. Our 2022 weekend focused on Rebecca Makkai’s compelling novel, The Great Believers, which chronicles the rise of the AIDS epidemic among a group of gay men during the early years of the crisis. This year, we turn to one of America’s most celebrated contemporary novelists Amor Towles, author of The Rules of Civility (2011) and A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). His latest, The Lincoln Highway (2021), debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and reached #1 on Amazon’s list of the Best Books of the Year.

Described by Chris Bachelder in his NYT review of the novel as “mischievous, wise and wildly entertaining,” The Lincoln Highway is a picaresque novel that becomes over the course of its episodic development an anthology of rollicking adventures. Four youth—Emmett and Billy Watson along with a couple of fugitives from a reformatory Duchess and Woolly—set forth ostensibly for California but through a series of shenanigans find themselves traveling eastward. As in his previous fictions, Towles gives us diverse, though recognizably human characters making their way through vividly drawn settings. Each adolescent is motivated by a personal quest, though clearly none is a master of his own destiny. “In the universe of this novel,” Bachelder writes, “grit and integrity and determination matter, not because they get you where you want to go but because they allow you to persist when you’re inevitably blown off course by chance, vicissitude and the disruptive schemes of fellow questers.” Towles quickly seduces the reader with his wit and obvious fondness for the players in this tale. Even at its ample length, The Lincoln Highway is a page-turner.

Joining Amor Towles in the program are Lena Hill, University Provost and Professor of English, and Howard Pickett, Director of the Shepherd Program and Associate Professor of Ethics and Poverty Studies. Each will discuss The Lincoln Highway from a variety of perspectives. How does this novel of misdirection and shifting points of view hold together? What does the novel make of the American Dream of westward movement and financial riches? Haunted by violence and betrayal, how does this adolescent fellowship endure? In what ways does the novel advance familiar American themes of redemption, renewal, and the human longing for community? The discussion of these and other questions should make for a most illuminating seminar.

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