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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

2014 Freshman Voltaire's Coffees


We will be hosting this year’s freshman VCs during the first two weeks of class, on evenings from (roughly) Monday, August 25th to Friday, September 12th.  Every freshman is encouraged to register for and attend at least one Voltaire’s Coffee.  Registration for VCs will begin in mid-July.   Because of other events that we strongly encourage you to attend, there will be no VCs on the evenings of Gone to Texas (August 26), Freshman Convocation (September 4), and Freshman Getaway (September 5).  

Below, you will find a list of the Fall 2014 Voltaire’s Coffees.  

We are ecstatic you’ll be joining us in the fall.  Enjoy your summer reading and welcome to Plan II!


Academic Chairs: Kate Coleman (, Fred Tally-Foos (, Tatum Jolink (TATUM.JOLINK@GMAIL.COM) & Sam Blow (

P2SA Academic Co-Chairs

2014 VC Books and Sponsors

All addresses and car-pooling information will be available before August 25.


Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, hosted by Dr. Alexandra Wettlaufer

Date: September 9, 2014

Location: Wettlaufer Residence 

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.  Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom--Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.


Alexandra K. Wettlaufer is a professor of French and Comparative Literature, specializing in 19th-century literature and the visual arts.  She also serves as Associate Director of Plan II.  Her most recent book, Portraits of the Artist as a Young Woman: Painting and the Novel in France and Britain, 1800-1860 was published in March 2011.


Edward Albee’s The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?, hosted by Dr. Paul Woodruff

Date: August 27th, 2014

Location: Woodruff Residence 

America's greatest living playwright has written this play about a falling in love, or having an epiphany, or something hard to explain.  Our hero, a successful architect, is unable to communicate with his family or his best friend.  How do you explain what love feels like?  How much can a father love his gay son?  And who is Sylvia?  (Warning: Adult themes)


Paul Woodruff has written a book about theater, translated a number of Greek plays, and crafted a few plays himself.  He also teaches philosophy.  In spare time he designs and builds furniture, plays the cello, and rows a single on Lady Bird Lake.


David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, hosted by

Dr. Jerome Bump

Date: September 11, 2014

Location: Normandy Scholars Room (CLA 2.606)

How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace's electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend. Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.


Jerome Bump has been awarded a number of research fellowships, the Jeanne Holloway Award for undergraduate teaching, and the Chad Oliver award for Plan II teaching. He was an editor of Texas Studies in Language and Literature and has written Gerard Manley Hopkins and many articles and chapters. His current project is Alice the Conqueror, about the representation of animals in the Alice books. For more information about him, his publications, his teaching philosophy, or his courses see

Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto, hosted by Matt Valentine

Date: August 27th, 2014

Location: Joynes Reading Room (Honors Quad)

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.


Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give, even in a novel so imbued with the rich imaginative potential of magic realism. But in a fractious world, Bel Canto remains a gentle reminder of the transcendence of beauty and love.


A 2000 Plan II/English graduate of UT Austin, Matt Valentine currently teaches Plan II seminars on writing and photography. His photographs have been published in many books, newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Men's Journal, the Boston Review, the Harvard Review and others. His short stories have been published in several journals, and have been recognized in national contests. Most recently, he won the 2012 Montana Prize for Fiction. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (the terminal degree in this field) from New York University, where he also worked full time for the Department of Photography and Imaging. Valentine is the Senior Program Coordinator for the Joynes Reading Room, and organizes the Joynes literary series, which brings world-class writers and scholars to UT to give public readings and lectures.


Lauren Binet’s HHhH, hosted by Dr. Judith Coffin

Date: September 11, 2014

Location: Coffin Residence

Lauren Binet’s HHhH is an unusual book of historical fiction, about the June 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi who ran the ‘Protectorat” of Czechoslovakia. It is a good read, but especially interesting because Binet is sharp about history, fiction, and the dilemmas of writing both.


Judy Coffin teaches courses in European history: the French Revolution (Fall, 2014), 20th century France (in the Normandy program), and Western Civ. for Plan II as well as graduate and undergraduate seminars in various topics. She directed the honors program in History History Honors for ten years. She is writing a book about ordinary readers’ letters to Simone de Beauvoir, called Simone de Beauvoir and Mid-Century Sex and is also working on a project about the history of radio.


Peter Benchley’s Jaws, hosted by Dr. Janet Davis

Date: September 2, 2014

Location: Joynes Reading Room (Honors Quad)

Published in 1974, Jaws is a thriller. The novel explores—in chilling detail—the consequences of several lethal encounters with a great white shark during the summer tourist season in the fictional seaside town of Amity, New York. Best-known as the blockbuster literary predecessor to the blockbuster movie, Jaws is also a rich historical document, filled with fascinating insights into a turbulent era.


Janet M. Davis is Associate Professor of American Studies, History, and Women's and Gender Studies at UT-Austin. She received her BA in History from Carleton College with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1986. She continued her education as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines from 1986-1989. She received her PhD in American history from the University of Wisconsin—Madison in 1998 and began her career at UT--Austin that fall. She is the author of The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America, (Oxford University Press, forthcoming, 2015). She is also the author of The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top (2002), and the editor of Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Life of Tiny Kline (2008), by Tiny Kline. Professor Davis works regularly as a consultant for museum exhibitions and documentary films. She has received fellowships from FLAS VI in Hindi, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association of University Women, and the University of Texas at Austin. She has won the Eyes of Texas Excellence Award and the President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award at UT. She greatly enjoys teaching TC 302: "American Animals: A Cultural History" in Plan II.


Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, hosted by Dr. Michael Stoff

Date: August 25th, 2014

Location: Stoff Residence 

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.


On May 17, 2008, at the Plan II Honors Commencement Convocation, President Bill Powers announced the appointment of Professor Stoff as the director of Plan II Honors through 2012. Michael Stoff served as the director ad interim from September 2006 until May 2008. Dr. Stoff is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Associate Professor in the Department of History. He received his doctorate from Yale University and serves as co-editor of the Oxford New Narratives in American History. Since 1998, Dr. Stoff has been involved with the Normandy Scholars program in which students study the Second World War in class and in Europe.


Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, hosted by Dr. J.K. Barret

Date: September 12, 2014

Location: Joynes Reading Room

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is, as Random House describes it, "an exuberant, irresistible novel that begins in New York City in 1939. A young escape artist and budding magician named Joe Kavalier arrives on the doorstep of his cousin, Sammy Clay. While the long shadow of Hitler falls across Europe, America is happily in thrall to the Golden Age of comic books, and in a distant corner of Brooklyn, Sammy is looking for a way to cash in on the craze. He finds the ideal partner in the aloof, artistically gifted Joe, and together they embark on an adventure that takes them deep into the heart of Manhattan, and the heart of old-fashioned American ambition. From the shared fears, dreams, and desires of two teenage boys, they spin comic book tales of the heroic, fascist-fighting Escapist and the beautiful, mysterious Luna Moth, otherworldly mistress of the night. Climbing from the streets of Brooklyn to the top of the Empire State Building, Joe and Sammy carve out lives, and careers, as vivid as cyan and magenta ink. Spanning continents and eras, this superb book by one of America’s finest writers remains one of the defining novels of our modern American age."


J.K. Barret is an Assistant Professor of English at UT Austin. She grew up in southern California, but lived on the east coast while attending college (University of Pennsylvania), graduate school (Princeton University), and in between (working in finance in Washington DC and at an internet start up company in New York City). As an undergraduate, she majored in English, focusing on medieval and Renaissance literature, and minored in Classical Studies. In graduate school, she turned her attention to Renaissance texts. She has been awarded several national fellowships (including the Josephine de Kármán Fellowship, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Fellowship and the Solmsen Fellowship) that provided support for her research project on conceptions of time and the future in the literature of Renaissance England. She has also received fellowship support to study French and Italian abroad. Her academic areas of interest include the intersection between word and image, temporality, performance, narrative, translation, and the influence of antiquity on Renaissance writers. She is an avid traveler, and has lived in Spain and visited Europe, Latin America and (briefly) Morocco.


 Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, hosted by Dr. Michael Starbird

Date: September 2, 2014

Location: Starbird Residence 

Outliers presents thought-provoking and well-told examples that support the view that even extraordinarily successful people reach their success largely through external support rather than through individual brilliance. It encourages us to find ways to nurture potential that currently is often unrealized--in ourselves and in society. You will definitely enjoy reading Outliers.


Michael Starbird is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor who has taught Plan II mathematics for many years. He has won Plan II's Chad Oliver Teaching Award among many other teaching awards including the national teaching award from the Mathematical Association of America. He teaches the joy of thinking.


Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories, hosted by Dr. Brian Doherty

Date: August 28, 2014

Location: Joynes Reading Room (Honors Quad)

A book of 8 short stories. We'll discuss all stories except for "Proving Up" and "The New Veterans." Karen Russell is like the lovechild of Angela Carter and Jorge Luis Borges (although there is some suspicion that Franz Kafka may be the real father) with Kurt Vonnegut as the godfather and George Saunders as a close first cousin. Strange truths emerge from strange human scenarios provoking laughter and wisdom. Her stories are fun and funny, and also serious.


A 20-year veteran of the UT classroom. Interested in expanding the canon of literature read in the University (has taught classes in The Graphic Novel, Bob Dylan, and quite a few classes on global world literature. Favorite pastime--competitive table tennis.


Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, hosted by Dr. Carol MacKay

Date: September 1, 2014

Location: Joynes Reading Room (Honors Quad)

For those of you who are detective buffs, this Victorian novel will take you back to where it all started. T.S. Eliot called The Moonstone "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels," and one of its narrators, Gabriel Betteredge, talks about catching "detective fever" as he works with Sgt. Cuff to find the thief who stole the rare diamond that by all rights belongs to a Hindu temple. Surprisingly, just discovering "who done it" still doesn't solve the mystery! The novel's multi-narrator format allows us to assess the evidence piecemeal, almost like a jury hears testimony, in order to reach the final solution.


With graduate degrees from Stanford University and UCLA, Professor Carol MacKay specializes in Victorian Fiction, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Autobiography. She is the author of Soliloquy in Nineteenth-Century Fiction and Creative Negativity: Four Victorian Exemplars of the Female Quest, as well as editor of The Two Thackerays, Dramatic Dickens, and Annie Besant’s Autobiographical Sketches. The recipient of several teaching awards, most notably the Harry Ransom Award for Teaching Excellence and the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, Professor MacKay has been a member of the Distinguished Teaching Academy since 2003. She swims daily in Barton Springs from May through October, and she confesses to being an ailurophile.


Kinglsey Amis’ Lucky Jim, hosted by Dr. James D. Garrison

Date: September 8, 2014

Location: Garrison Residence 

Lucky Jim is a comic novel about academic life at a provincial British University in the 1950's.  Jim Dixon is a struggling History professor who runs into every kind of complication on his way toward a climactic public address that serves to end his university career.


James Garrison has been a Professor of English at UT since 1973, chair of the English Department from 1994 to 2006, and a regular teacher of Plan II E603A/B.


C.J. Pascoe’s Dude, You’re a Fag, hosted by Professor Travis Beaver

Date: September 3, 2014

Location: Joynes Reading Room (Honors Quad)

"High school and the difficult terrain of sexuality and gender identity are brilliantly explored in this smart, incisive ethnography. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in a racially diverse working-class high school, Dude, You're a Fag sheds new light on masculinity both as a field of meaning and as a set of social practices. C. J. Pascoe's unorthodox approach analyzes masculinity as not only a gendered process but also a sexual one. She demonstrates how the "specter of the fag" becomes a disciplinary mechanism for regulating heterosexual as well as homosexual boys and how the "fag discourse" is as much tied to gender as it is to sexuality."


Travis Beaver is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. His research largely focuses on the intersection of gender and sexuality as it relates to the construction of sexual identities.  Specifically, he is interested in heterosexual masculinities and public discourse about male femininity.


Travis’s dissertation, “Wayward Heterosexuals: The Sexual and Gender Politics of Ambiguous Sexual Identity,” examines how the increasing visibility and acceptance of gays and lesbians has impacted heterosexual identities.  For this project he is conducting in-depth interviews with straight-identified men who are read as gay.  These interviews explore how these men manage their heterosexual identity in a cultural context in which people who are not gender normative are assumed to be gay.  This project challenges the reified, and normative, connection between gender presentation and sexual orientation by highlighting queer crossings within heterosexuality.


Travis received a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006.  He graduated summa cum laude.


Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Pichu, hosted by Dr. James Vick

Date: September 11, 2014

Location: Vick Residence

July 24, 1911, was a day for the history books. For on that rainy morning, the young Yale lecturer Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and encountered an ancient city in the clouds: the now famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Nearly a century later, news reports have recast the hero explorer as a villain who smuggled out priceless artifacts and stole credit for finding one of the world's greatest archaeological sites. 

Mark Adams has spent his career editing adventure and travel magazines, so his plan to investigate the allegations against Bingham by retracing the explorer's perilous path to Machu Picchu isn't completely far- fetched, even if it does require him to sleep in a tent for the first time. With a hard-as-nails Australian survivalist and several Quechua-speaking, coca-chewing mule tenders as his guides, Adams takes readers through some of the most gorgeous and historic landscapes in Peru, from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco to the enigmatic ruins of Vitcos and Vilcabamba. 

Along the way he finds a still-undiscovered country populated with brilliant and eccentric characters, as well as an answer to the question that has nagged scientists since Hiram Bingham's time: Just what was Machu Picchu?


Professor Vick grew up in Baton Rouge, La., and attended Louisiana State University, where he received a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1964. After earning master's and doctor's degrees in mathematics at the University of Virginia, he taught for two years at Princeton University before joining the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin in 1970. From 1978 to 1989 he was associate dean for the Office of Academic and Student Affairs in the College of Natural Sciences. In September 1989 he was named vice president for student affairs.


As a professor of mathematics, Vick has been recognized on several occasions for outstanding teaching and for service to undergraduate honors programs. Some of these awards and recognitions include the Jean Holloway Teaching Excellence Award, the William Blunk Professorship, President's Associates Teaching Award, AMOCO Teaching Excellence Award, and CASE Professor of the year for the State of Texas. He was appointed as an Ashbel Smith Professor in 1992. Until June 1996 he was the university's faculty athletic representative to the NCAA and the Southwest Conference. In spring 1996, he was elected to the university's Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Norman Rush’s Whites, hosted by Dr. John Rumrich

Date: September 2, 2014

Location: Joynes Reading Room (Honors Quad)

In this magnificent collection of stories, Rush produces indelible portraits of Euro-American ex-patriates at loose ends in the black African republic of Botswana. The author's characters are unforgettable, while their predicaments are funny, improbably logical, and almost affecting as Africa itself.


Professor Rumrich teaches and has published on seventeenth-century British literature and is co-editor of the Norton Critical Edition of "Seventeenth Century British Poetry" and the Modern Library Edition of "The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton."


Aaron James’ Assholes: A Theory and Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit, hosted by Dr. Austin Gleeson

Date: September 2, 2014

Location: Gleeson Residence

A thoughtful approach to important social problems.


Professor Austin Gleeson, a theoretical physicist, received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965.  He served on the faculty at Syracuse University and moved to The University of Texas in 1969.  He has served in a wide range of all faculty and administrative positions at The University.  He has been teaching Plan II Physics since time began. In addition, he has received many teaching awards including the 2000 Chad Oliver Award from the Plan II students and the 2008 Jeanne Holloway Teaching Excellence Award administered by the Ex-Students Association.



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