By MARTY LEVINE
Uwe Stender still isn’t certain why he was named best general education professor in a recent poll in The Pitt News — “I didn’t even know that I was nominated,” he says — but it just might be his emphasis on connecting the ancient, and the mere decades old, to current times.
In his classes — Germanic Myths, Legends and Sagas; New German Cinema; and Indo-European Folktales — “these stories have to be looked at in their timeframes,” Stender says, but students are also urged to examine the questions: “Why are these stories still taught? Where is the commonality with today’s humans?”
Thanks to Marvel movies featuring Thor, Loki and Odin, there is now more of an awareness of the Viking connection to German Anglo-Saxon traditions, but class members have taken their comparisons farther than he would have thought, he says, seeing in the German Nibelungen story a connection to Harry Potter.
Of course, storytelling that is even a decade old can be problematic, seeing the world in different and troubling ways. In the myths class, Stender’s students analyze the characters: How modern are they? How would you do a retelling today? In 2022 America, who would be the villain, who would be the hero and what would the movie casting be?
The students also are encouraged to create memes to help make points in their class presentations, and Stender shows examples using everything from the classics (a grinning Gene Wilder in “Willy Wonka”; man holding hands with one woman while he turns to look at another; screaming white lady) to Drake, Nicolas Cage and Donald Glover.
In his New German Cinema class, he covers films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, with directors such as Fassbinder and Herzog — again examining how storytelling has evolved and how directing has changed.
In today’s classes, he emphasizes small group discussion, Stender says, since in smaller groups students start communicating with one another, get to know each other as a community and even seem to learn better. This has been particularly necessary not just in the age of cellphones, he says, but since the pandemic.
As a a part-time faculty member in German since 2006, he also has taught such courses as elementary to intermediate German, German writing and German media.
But his full-time job is as founder and president of TriadaUS, a literary agency with five agents and a bunch of recent success. TriadaUS has handled five New York Times bestsellers, including one that is essentially a myth retold: Chloe Gong’s young adult novel “These Violent Delights,” which is Romeo and Juliet with a much more diverse set of characters living in 1923 Shanghai — “and you add a monster to it,” he says.
He is now working with everyone from Amazon to Disney to turn some of these works into the most modern medium of all — the streaming series.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.