23. Presentation at the MLA Convention: December 27, 1976

The paper I presented at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, in a special session on GDR Prose Fiction: Critical Approaches and Model Analyses, was entitled “Contemporary GDR Prose Writers and Their Society: Perspectives from Within.” Imagine my surprise when I read the following report, prepared in Berlin and dated April 21, 1977, on my MLA talk. The report is titled “Information: References to GDR Writers during the annual conference of the Modern Language Association (MLA) USA.” “Main Department XX/3” and “Top Secret” appear in the upper left corner of the first page.

Unofficially, it became known that Richard A. Zipser, Oberlin College, Ohio spoke on the topic “Contemporary GDR Prose Writers and Their Society” at the annual conference of the MLA. His presentation was based on interviews that Z. had conducted with 35 writers in the GDR in conjunction with his private visits in 1976.

The following authors responded to Z.’s interview question, “Which contemporary social problems are of the greatest concern to you as a writer?”: Jurek BECKER, Günter de BRUYN, Fritz Rudolf FRIES, Franz FÜHMANN, Stephan HERMLIN, Stefan HEYM, Karl-Heinz JAKOBS, Hermann KANT, Günter KUNERT, Irmtraud MORGNER, Erik NEUTSCH, Eberhard PANITZ, Ulrich PLENZDORF, Klaus SCHLESINGER, und Rolf SCHNEIDER (Answers given by the abovelisted writers and the interview questionnaire are in the attachment).

Furthermore, it became known that Joan GLICK (now HOLMES, because divorced) was present at the conference just mentioned and read a paper on “The 9th Party Congress and Cultural Policies in the GDR.” The person referred to above is still in the GDR as a result of a private extension of her stay at the Humboldt University of Berlin for academic purposes, within the framework of the agreement with the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) based in New York. IREX considers itself responsible for the exchange of scholars from the USA and socialist countries at the university level. [Joan Holmes received her Ph.D. in German literature from The Johns Hopkins University in 1976. Her dissertation was entitled “Portrayal of Tragic Conflicts in the Drama of the German Democratic Republic.” In the fall of 1975, she was in the first group of IREX scholars from the United States conducting research in the GDR, where she was able to remain until 1977.]

The next page of this report contains a list of the fifteen questions I had been using to interview GDR writers. The names of fifteen GDR authors appear on this sheet, which was actually a handout I had distributed to everyone attending the MLA session. Then, on the next page, the following paragraph from my talk is quoted verbatim:

In the second section of my paper, I should like to cite the responses of several well-known GDR prose writers to one of the more topical questions I posed: “Which contemporary social problems are of the greatest concern to you as a writer?” Since none of this information has been published as yet, I wish to anticipate and avoid any possible difficulties which could result from quoting at this time. Thus, I have elected to name the responding authors, then to list their answers in random order. For the purposes of this paper, it is only important to know what the individual responses were, not who said what, and I hope my reluctance to reveal the latter information will be understood. The writers in question are: Jurek Becker, Günter de Bruyn, Fritz Rudolf Fries, Franz Fühmann, Stephan Hermlin, Stefan Heym, Karl-Heinz Jakobs, Hermann Kant, Günter Kunert, Irmtraud Morgner, Erik Neutsch, Eberhard Panitz, Ulrich Plenzdorf, Klaus Schlesinger, and Rolf Schneider. The answers they gave to the above question (which in many instances have been edited, in order to shorten them) were as follows: [The next five pages of this of the report contain fifteen answers, which were taken directly from the handout I distributed to everyone attending the MLA session.]

How did all this information wind up in the hands of the Stasi and eventually find its way into my file? I have reason to believe that an American Germanist in the audience sent it to a writer-friend in the GDR who was a SED party loyalist, and that he in turn passed it along to a high-level functionary at the GDR Writers’ Union. Of course, since the writers names were not linked directly to the responses on the handout, the GDR authorities also were unable to know who said what. However, the information on the handout gave them a good idea of the kind of material I had been gathering in the interviews.