Since I’ve had five Fulbright grants (a student fellowship to France, a Junior Lectureship to France, Senior Lectureships to Belgium and Sweden, and a Distinguished Chair Award to Austria), I’ve had numerous memorable experiences that exemplify the “Fulbright Spirit.” However, one that stands out came at the end of my semester teaching American Literature at the University of Vienna. I was asked to give the end-of-semester program, usually reserved for a permanent member of the staff, to which current and former university students, faculty, Fulbrighters, high school students, people from the American Embassy, and community members were invited. I decided to give a “multimedia” program, using Powerpoint slides and my “secret weapon,” my husband who was a professional tenor and taught voice and music history at our university in the United States; we had met and fallen in love when we were both Fulbright students in Paris and had been married for over 40 years at that time.
The talk was entitled “Celebrate Good Times, Come On: Celebrations in American Art, Literature, and Music,” perfect for an audience of mixed levels of knowledge, both entertaining and instructive, with insights into the variety of American culture. As people flooded in, I was thrilled to see a large crowd, many of whom I knew, so it was like a farewell party of sorts.
I began with American artists who depicted various celebrations in a distinctive American idiom, with slides of each painting mentioned. The artists included the African-American Palmer Hayden, who focused on music and dancing in the working class, and Reginald Marsh, known for his realistic scenes of New York City life. Paintings of more ordinary forms of festivity included picnicking, going to the beach, and that most American of entertainments—shopping.
The second part considered celebrations in American Literature, often overshadowed by harsh realities that contrast powerfully with typically happy occasions. In The Sound and the Fury, for example, William Faulkner uses the season of Easter to contrast ironically with the lack of renewal and joy in the Compson family, while Eudora Welty sets her short story “Why I live at the P.O.,” on the Fourth of July, our most American of American celebrations marked by family picnics, parades, and fireworks, to reveal family discord.
Finally, I turned to American music, with songs sung by my husband. We began with “America the Beautiful,” a patriotic song praising the beauties and values of America. Next was the joyful negro spiritual “When the Saints Go Marching in,” celebrating the prospect of joining the saints in a glorious afterlife. We concluded with the lively “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin, a joyous celebration of rhythm, music, and love.
This program encapsulated the variety and originality of American culture and provided my largely European audience an entrée into American life in an enjoyable format. I saw the Fulbright spirit in action as many told me afterwards that it gave them valuable insight into America.
Nancy Duvall Hargrove – Fulbright Awards to France (1963 & 1976), Belgium (1984), Sweden (1992), Austria (2005)