Karen Leeder

Karen Leeder

Karen Leeder

Karen Leeder is Professor of Modern German Literature at New College, Oxford. Karen studied German at Oxford and the University of Hamburg. After teaching for three years at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, she took up her Fellowship at New College in 1993 and became Professor of Modern German Literature in 2008, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2017 and Fellow of the Academia Europaea in 2020.

She is a prize-winning translator of contemporary literature and has published widely on modern German culture, especially of the post-1945 and contemporary periods.

In 2016 she received an English PEN and an American PEN award for her translations of Ulrike Almut Sandig Thick of it. She is a Trustee of the Stephen Spender Trust and the Poetry Translation Centre and regularly appears on radio and television talking about aspects of German culture. 

Photo: Stefan Rumpf

Recommended Play(s)

Karen recommended Woyzeck by Georg Buchner.

 

 

 

 

 

055 – Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind

055 – Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind

Spring Awakening – A New Musical
Almeida Theatre London 2022
Photo by Marc Brenner


055 – Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind

German playwright Frank Wedekind’s dark, expressionist play Spring Awakening – A Children’s Tragedy was written in 1891. It is an extraordinarily frank depiction of teenage anxiety and sexuality, which includes graphic scenes of masturbation, sado-masochism, homosexuality and rape, as well as suicide and abortion. The play was so controversial in its time that it was 15 years before it was first performed in 1906 in Berlin, and only then with cuts demanded by the censor. It is a nightmarish, cautionary portrait of adolescent angst and rebellion against oppressive social strictures and family expectations.

The play is also the unlikely source for the modern rock musical of the same name, which premiered on Broadway in 2006, and was recently revived at the Almeida Theatre in London in a storming new production directed by their Artistic Director, Rupert Goold. The musical retains much of the dark narrative of the original, adding a score that enunciates all of the young people’s yearnings, fears and frustrations, as well as their hopeful energy and defiance, though it arguably also softens some of the shock of Wedekind’s original play.

To talk us through the contemporary controversies and enduring power of Spring Awakening, I’m delighted to welcome the Professor of Modern German Literature at New College, Oxford, Karen Leeder.

Professor Karen Leeder

Karen Leeder studied German at Oxford and the University of Hamburg. After teaching for three years at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, she took up her Fellowship at New College in 1993 and became Professor of Modern German Literature in 2008, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2017 and Fellow of the Academia Europaea in 2020.

She is a prize-winning translator of contemporary literature and has published widely on modern German culture, especially of the post-1945 and contemporary periods.

In 2016 she received an English PEN and an American PEN award for her translations of Ulrike Almut Sandig Thick of it. She is a Trustee of the Stephen Spender Trust and the Poetry Translation Centre and regularly appears on radio and television talking about aspects of German culture. 

Recommended Play

Karen recommended Woyzeck by Georg Buchner.

 

Photo by Stefan Rumpf

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055 – Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind

055 – Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind

Frank Wedekind’s dark, expressionist play Spring Awakening is a cautionary portrait of adolescent angst and rebellion against oppressive social strictures and family pressures. Its frank depiction of sex and violence remains shocking more than 130 years after it was written, and it is the unlikely source of the award-winning modern musical of the same name.

I’m delighted to be joined by Professor Karen Leeder to explore the contemporary controversies and enduring relevance of this extraordinary play.

054 – The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

054 – The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible recreates the terror of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 when a religious hysteria gripped the Puritan community. Miller wrote the play in 1953, when America was going through a modern witch hunt prosecuting Communist sympathisers. The play is Miller’s most frequently produced, its portrait of personal betrayal and institutional tyranny being universally recognised in any time or society.

I’m delighted to welcome back to the podcast Miller expert, Dr Stephen Marino, to explore the origins and enduring relevance of Miller’s powerful, cautionary play.

053 – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Bertolt Brecht

053 – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1944 while in exile in the United States as a parable about the chaos and costs of war. After his return to East Germany in 1948 he updated the play to set it in the context of post-war Communism. His fable is both a theatrical fairy-tale and a political allegory.

I’m delighted to welcome the director of the first major London revival for 25 years, Christopher Haydon, artistic director of the Rose Theatre to discuss this challenging, complicated, compelling, even crazy play.