German Writer-in-Residence Peter Stephan Jungk Finds Inspiration and Belonging in Oberlin

April 19, 2022

Amanda Nagy

Peter Jungk.
German author and documentary filmmaker Peter Stephan Jungk is a returning Max Kade Writer in Residence.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Novelist and documentary filmmaker Peter Stephan Jungk grew up in Vienna, Berlin, and Salzburg before settling in Paris for more than 30 years, but Oberlin College and its bucolic surroundings have felt like a home away from home since his first visit in 2003. Oberlin even has a notable place in his 2021 memoir Marktgeflüster, about finding home at an open-air market in Paris.

“I would say that Paris has become home, although I’m a complete stranger there. I am completely at ease speaking German and English, but French is still a problem,” confesses Jungk, who is this year’s Max Kade German Writer in Residence. If the name sounds familiar to those with knowledge of institutional history, it’s because this is Jungk’s third residency teaching German literature to Oberlin students. Since the college began the residency in 1968, Jungk is the only author to be chosen more than once. His most recent selection was in 2018.

So when he was asked to return a third time, he had some reservations. He didn’t want to take the opportunity away from other writers, and the offer came with a twist: he was asked to teach a screenwriting workshop to fill in for Professor of Cinema Studies Geoff Pingree during his sabbatical. 

“This time is much different because in addition to teaching German literature, I am preparing for the workshop and meeting with very talented young people who mainly come from the creative writing program. There is less time to work on my next novel, but I’m not complaining—it’s been fun,” says Jungk, whose accomplishments as a writer and screenwriter include 12 books and five documentaries. 

His 2016 documentary Tracking Edith tells the story of a great aunt, Edith Tudor-Heart. It was well known in Jungk’s family that Tudor-Heart was a talented photographer, but it wasn’t until 20 years after her death that Jungk learned she had lived a double life as a KGB agent who  helped create the Cambridge Five, the Soviet Union’s most successful spy ring in the United Kingdom.

Assistant Professor of German Gabriel Cooper has benefited from Jungk’s tutelage both as a professor and as an Oberlin alumnus. He first met Jungk in fall 2003, when he was a student in the German 315 Writer-in-Residence seminar. 

“I was already impressed by his writing back then, and when I think about how we students would write for him each week in German—as learners of that language—it seems impossibly far-fetched that he would be interested in us and our lived experiences. But he really was interested, and that was how we got into conversations, inside and outside of class, about everything from language and belonging, to family, home, and American life and culture.”

Cooper stayed in touch with Jungk long after his studies at Oberlin. In spring 2017, he invited Jungk back to Oberlin for a weeklong symposium he organized on Jungk’s writing and films. Cooper also taught a module course that semester about Jungk’s work “as a way to give back to Oberlin what Oberlin had given to me as part of my education in German language and literature.” 

In choosing authors to fill the Max Kade residency, the German department considers individuals who will engage well with students and are established, working writers in German.

“Peter Stephan Jungk is a perfect fit not just because of his accomplishments, but also what he can offer students in the Writer-in-Residence seminar as a result,” says Cooper. “Peter is very approachable, insatiably curious, generous, and open with students, especially regarding his life and his art. From what students have reported, and from my own experience, I know that Peter welcomes students to share what they think about his writing, even their most critical reactions, since he relishes that exchange with readers. This sets him apart from many other authors, and it also speaks to why he has been such a good fit for the program.” 

As is the tradition with the Max Kade residency, Jungk will give a public reading in English from his biographical and autobiographical writings. The event will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, in Kade House. Cooper will moderate a conversation, and a Q&A will follow.

Jungk says it serves him well to be immersed with young talent who can show him a different world. And although the landscape of Oberlin is vastly different from Austria or Switzerland, he continues to find inspiration here. 

“I’m very interested in my students’ aspirations. I know it’s a cliche, but teaching is learning.”

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