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Mad Men at times seemed less like a television show than a great American novel broken down into one-hour snippets. This concept, apparently, is something the University of Pennsylvania realized.
During the spring semester about 20 lucky Penn students will get to binge watch all seven seasons of the TV show as part of this spring’s Kelly Writers House Fellows Seminar. On April 25 and 26, Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator and writer, will make two public appearances on campus, and discuss the show privately with the students.
“We’ll be studying Mad Men episodes as literary text,” said Lily Applebaum, program coordinator for Kelly Writers House Fellows Seminar.
That means they’ll be digging into some of themes and characters that engrossed critics and viewers for nearly a decade. Applebaum said the cultural moments of the 60s and their effects on society moving forward will be one of those themes. The female characters, like Peggy Olson, will be studied, but plenty of the course will focus on the show’s protagonist, Don Draper, whose seeming inability to change was one of the central mysteries of Mad Men.
“It’s kind of hard not to,” said Applebaum of studying Don Draper.
Mad Men is not the lone topic of the class. Every year for this seminar course, students focus on the writings of three people who later come to visit the class and Penn for private and public discussions. This spring, students will start by studying works of the science fiction writer Samuel Delany and then the poet Eileen Myles.
Delany, Myles and Weiner will all come to speak with the students in a private session. Other classwork will include online and in-class discussions, as well as weekly papers.
Weiner is the latest in a run of famous writers Penn has attracted in recent years, including renowned authors T.C. Boyle, Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates since 2009. Other well-known writers to take part have included David Sedaris, John McPhee, Roger Angell and Susan Sontag.
But few of their previous guests have this kind of star power. Mad Men’s season finale was earlier this year, and that show, combined with his work on The Sopranos, has turned Weiner into one of the most famous television writers in America, a man better known than many of the actors and actresses who appear on his shows.
Weiner’s first public appearance will be a reading. Then the next morning, on April 27, the Writers House will host a Q and A session with him. Before the first public appearance, Weiner will meet the class and have an opportunity to discuss his show with a group of people who will have studied it as closely as anyone.
“They won’t just be giving a presentation to a group of people who may not be familiar with their work,” Applebaum said. “We’re promising them a real intensive literary engaged conversation.”
How to go: Weiner’s two appearances are 6:30 p.m. on April 25 and 10 a.m. on April 26. The event is free and open to the public, but attendees must RSVP by calling 215-573-9749 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about the visits of Delany or Myles, check the Kelly Writers House website.