31. Invitation to Jurek Becker (1)

As I mentioned earlier, Oberlin College had a German writer-in-residence program which enabled us to invite a writer from a German-speaking country to spend a good portion of the spring semester in Oberlin. Since our experiences with Christa Wolf and Ulrich Plenzdorf had been such positive ones, the German faculty decided to invite another East German author for the spring 1978 semester. The writer we selected was Jurek Becker, one of the most prominent and outspoken writers in the GDR, who had told me he was very interested coming to Oberlin. Becker had achieved international recognition through the publication in 1969 of his first novel, Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar), which had been translated into many languages and made into a motion picture with the same title. The letter of invitation was being sent to me at the US Embassy in East Berlin, where I picked up my mail periodically, so I could hand-deliver it to Becker. This would prevent the GDR authorities from intercepting the invitation and enable Becker to seek permission for his stay as guest writer in Oberlin without delay. The next report in my file, reproduced in its entirety below, is mainly concerned with the invitation to Becker.

Main department xx/7 Berlin, 10/21/1977

I n f o r m a t i o n

about activities of USA citizen Richard ZIPSER during his current stay in the GDR

Unofficially, it became known that ZIPSER called on the GDR writer Jurek BECKER on 10/16/1977. In ZIPSER’s company was a person known to be closely connected to Sarah KIRSCH

 W a r d e t z k y, Jutta
born:  [blacked out] 1939 in Leipzig
residence:  104 Berlin, [blacked out]

ZIPSER informed BECKER about the length of his stay in the GDR and about the handling of the formalities which he, ZIPSER, has taken over for BECKER in preparation for the journey to the USA BECKER has planned for the spring of next year. ZIPSER plans to give BECKER the invitation and the contract with Oberlin College in the state of Ohio, USA, in the coming week. As for the term of BECKER’s residency in the USA, ZIPSER suggested the time period from 2/25/1978 until 5/10/1978.
ZIPSER presented BECKER with a prospective program for his stay at Oberlin College: he would give a 1½-hour lecture course at least once a week, hold readings on 10 predetermined free days, and devote the remaining time to his own writing.
ZIPSER let BECKER know that in the coming days he is expecting to receive a letter for BECKER from the USA, which will contain the supporting documents for BECKER’s 1978 trip to the USA. ZIPSER thought it would be unsafe to have the letter sent directly to BECKER. ZIPSER intends to use the same method to convey BECKER’s response to Oberlin College. ZIPSER mentioned additionally that he is well acquainted with a former staff member at the USA embassy in the GDR, KLEIN.

BECKER intends to stay in the USA beyond the time period ZIPSER proposed. Subsequent to his stay at Oberlin College, he said, he plans to spend approximately 2 months living in a friend’s house in a suburb of San Francisco.

BECKER was of the opinion that the outbound trip to the USA would be approved without any difficulties because the state-run agencies wanted nothing more at the moment than to be rid of him for a long time.