Guy Stern Vice Chair of the Board and Lifetime Trustee
I was born in 1922 as Günther Stern in Hildesheim, Germany. In 1937 I emigrated to the U.S. From 1940 to 1942 I studied at Saint Louis University, followed by three years of army service. As a sergeant in the U.S. Military Intelligence, I took part in the Normandy invasion and was decorated with the Bronze Star. In 1948 I received my B.A. at Hofstra University, my M.A. (1950) and Ph.D. (1954) at Columbia University. My teaching career included Denison, Columbia, the universities of Cincinnati, Maryland and Wayne State (Detroit, MI), the latter as Distinguished Professor for German Literature and Cultural History. I served as guest professor at several German universities and authored/edited numerous books and anthologies about German Literary History, focusing on exile- and immigrant literature. After retirement I became director of the International Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Greater Detroit.
Honors (selection): Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1987), Honorary Citizen of Tucson/AZ (2007) and Hildesheim/Germany (2012), honorary doctorates of Hofstra U and Hildesheim U, National Order of the Legion of Honor from the French Republic. I live in Greater Detroit together with my wife Susanna Piontek, a German writer.
I am the President of the PEN Centre of German-Speaking Writers Abroad, co-founded the Lessing Society, and I am a board member of the Kurt Weill Foundation.
And now for account of my wandering into the orbit of Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill: My friend, colleague and frequent collaborator, Gustave Mathieu, and I had just received our Ph.D. from Columbia and secured professorships at prestigious but far distant universities. We decided that we would do one more work-in-collaboration before departing from New York and Columbia. We finished a book, Brieflich erzaehlt, a reader for students in their third semester of their major in German. It now needed a final revision. A stroke of luck happened. Both of us were recalled to Columbia as Visiting Professors during the summer session of our alma mater. We set to work on our manuscript. “Is there any major omission?” one of us asked. We both concluded that we had portrayed the most important German composers of past centuries but had left out any outstanding contemporary: “Kurt Weill!” we both blurted out. It fell to me to contact Lenya for letters exchanged between Weill, Werfel, and Max Reinhardt during the genesis of the musical drama The Eternal Road.
I still blush when I think of that letter today; it took chutzpah to new heights. We foresaw that we would gain further acclaim through our chapter, even though we had no publisher as yet. Nonetheless we received a thick envelope with key letters two weeks later. George Davis, Lenya’s second husband and she merely requested that we submit a copy of our finished chapter. Thank the Lord, they were delighted with it. They gave me further assignments. A friendship ensued, ultimately Lenya asked me to join the Foundation, which I did in various positions. I was “in” as “expert” on Weill’s libretti and German Literature in general.