The Winter Park Institute Presents Jules Feiffer and Marsha Norman

April 01, 2010

WPI"The Winter Park Institute continuously brings the most important figures from the cutting-edge of American culture to the Central Florida community,” said former Poet Laureate and current Winter Park Institute Senior Distinguished Fellow Billy Collins, on Thursday, February 25, in the Bush Auditorium.  As part of the Institute’s Ideas in Residence series, influential writers and social commentators Jules Feiffer and Marsha Norman shared insights into their lives, careers and artistry throughout the two-day series of events. Capacity audiences of students, faculty, staff, and community residents found themselves richly rewarded by the intellectually stimulating discussions that took place during each presentation. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Jules Feiffer kicked off the series of events with a lecture and slideshow entitled “My Life and Funny Times.”  Author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Backing into Forward, which was recently featured on the front page of the New York Times Book Review section, Feiffer outlined the journey through his career, read a brief except from his book, and concluded with slides of his favorite comic strips, both his own and of his contemporaries.

Through his use of biting humor and illustrations over the past six decades, Feiffer graphically depicted American social change and captured cultural mood. Collins commented, “Jules has been working steadily since the 1950’s as an artist of many facets.  He is also a liberal conscience who kept an eye on this country.”

WPIFeiffer, whose sharp wit caused uproarious laughter and applause throughout his presentation, realized at an early age that his sense of humor could get him out of difficult situations.  “I was a funny kid and my joking was a way for me to avoid getting beaten up,” remarked Feiffer.  “Comedy lets people’s guards down. You can say some brutally honest things and people just take it, and later process it.”

Marsha Norman, Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, also mesmerized an audience on Friday, March 26 in an event entitled Writing for the Theater: A Survival Guide!  Norman has earned awards over the past three decades for her plays, ‘night, Mother, The Secret Garden, the libretto for The Color Purple.  More recently, she is known for contributing to the HBO original series In Treatment.  Norman shared with the Rollins Community her professional opinions and expertise on how to succeed as a writer for theater.

“There is no magnetic relationship between an experience and how the writer describes it in words,” elaborated Norman on the art of writing for the theater during a lunch with students at the Winter Park Institute.  “You have to take some time before writing about it.  Then stay focused and keep on writing, and you will see your experience come out symbolically.”

In contrast, Feiffer followed with a lecture entitled How Not to Write a Screenplay.  He described how his writing experiences for the stage were met with mixed success.

The series of events concluded in the Annie Russell Theatre with a spirited symposium, entitled The Arts and Social Responsibility.  Provost Roger Casey introduced the speakers by saying, “These are three remarkable artists remarking on the arts.”  The open-ended theme touched on a variety of topics including artistic influences, expectations of fame and fortune, and the role intermission plays in a performance. Pearls of wisdom were offered to those in attendance throughout the discussion.

“If we all are not socially responsible, we will end up with whatever the world gives us by default,” explained Norman, who went on to add, “Artists create, shape, and record the history of the time.  Through art, elements of a culture are passed on to future generations.”

“If you expect fame to stick around, you are sorely mistaken,” explained Feiffer.  “You will have to start from scratch over and over again, no matter how many prizes you win.”  Feiffer then elaborated on the role of critics:  “Success is nothing to sneeze at but failure, too, offers great possibilities. And always remember; do not let your judges define you.”

WPINorman concluded with, “There is performance everywhere. By learning how people react to what is said and what goes on, you can influence their emotions through your writing.”

The Winter Park Institute concludes this semester’s line up of events with the final installment of the Ideas in Residence series on April 22.  Computer scientist, composer, visual artist and author Jaron Lanier will present his manifesto, You Are Not a Gadget, in Tiedtke Concert Hall.   For more information, please visit

-  By Justin Braun

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