The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1027 Friday, 4 May 2001
Date: Friday, May 04, 2001
Subject: FYI: Werner Gundersheimer to Retire
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Folger Library Chief to Retire
By Jacqueline Trescott
When Werner Gundersheimer called the staff of the Folger Shakespeare
Library together yesterday, he played a CD of the Beatles song "When I'm
Sixty-Four." Everyone sang along for the beginning of what turned out to
be the first of a series of farewells to the director.
Gundersheimer surprised his staff by announcing his plans to step down
next year after what will be 18 years at the helm of the Folger. "Next
spring will be the 70th anniversary of the library and my own 65th
birthday. And as Al Simpson says, you should make a change every 18
years," said Gundersheimer. (Simpson, a member of the library's board,
represented Wyoming for 18 years in the Senate.)
When his tenure began, the Folger was a quiet place on Capitol Hill for
scholars and members of the public interested in Shakespeare,
performances of his work and other aspects of early European history. It
boasts the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, as
well as a sizable library of works on travel, philosophy, medicine and
gardens from early modern Europe.
Last year, the Folger had 35,000 patrons for its public programs and
200,000 visitors. The Folger produces a full season of plays and poetry
readings, holds summer institutes for teachers and students, brings in
local schools for workshops and has a boisterous birthday party for
"It has been my great privilege and pleasure to work with our talented
and devoted staff to build a stronger library, a livelier house of
intellect, and a more vibrant urban community," Gundersheimer said.
To protect this haven, Gundersheimer established 20 endowment funds and
started a vigorous acquisitions project. The library acquired two
extremely rare books by Edmund Spenser in the last decade.
The Folger endowment grew from $27 million in 1984 to $175 million last
year. "We may have slipped a wee bit in the current market but we are
stable," he said.
The library is an independent research facility and is directed by the
trustees of Amherst College.
Gundersheimer noted that like most cultural and educational
institutions, the Folger has had to invest heavily in technology. "In
1984, the Folger had four word processors with virtually no memory and a
broken mainframe computer. Now we have a fully integrated fiber optic
system," he said.
Karen Hastie Williams, chairwoman of the library's trustees, said
yesterday that "under Werner's stewardship, the public programs of
poetry, music and theater have flourished; the pre-college programs have
expanded and opened the world of Shakespeare to thousands of young
When he leaves next year, Gundersheimer plans to spend more time with
his parents and in-laws. He and his wife "are so lucky to have four
living parents and we want to be more available to them," said
Gundersheimer, who also has two adult sons, a pediatrician and a rock
Another priority will be writing a memoir. A native of Germany,
Gundersheimer left Fran!
kfurt with his parents in 1939 and moved to England. A year later the
family moved to America and he was placed in a foster home with a
congregationalist minister in New Hampshire. "That is where it starts
because those are my earliest memories," he said. Gundersheimer, a
graduate of Amherst and Harvard University, is a historian and a
specialist in the Italian Renaissance. "This has all been a tremendous
joy," he said.
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