Alum of the Month

December 2020

December 2020
Guy Stern

(BA, Fine Arts, ’48; HND, ’98)

Q & A:

  • What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
    My major was romance languages. My favorite professor is a tie between Dean Beckwith (French Literature), and Constant van de Wall (Fine Arts). My fondest memory is being feature editor of The Hofstra Chronicle, and later getting an honorary doctorate from Hofstra.
  • What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing learned in that position?
    I held a “real job” as a part-time waiter at the Broadway Lobster Pond in Manhattan. My most important lesson of that time was to gain insight into a different group of fellow Americans. I am a proud lifelong member of the “defunct waiters union.”
  • What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
    I went on to graduate school at Columbia, obtained my PhD in February 1954, and was helped greatly by the GI Bill of Rights. Columbia gave me the background I would need throughout my career as a Distinguished Professor in Literature; in short, I acquired a competence in German and comparative literature and at the same time the necessary teaching and leadership skills. My first position was at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, as assistant professor.
  • What advice would you give Hofstra students?
    My advice to students is what I have tried to practice myself. Learn to think on your own!
  • In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
    Excellent faculty, strict – but understanding!
  • What was the driving force for publishing your autobiography, Invisible Ink, at the age of 98?
    As sole survivor of the Holocaust within my whole family, I wanted to show that I tried to honor my murdered parents, brother, and sister. Since I am still “gainfully” employed as director of the International Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Greater Detroit, it was not so easy to make time for it before.
  • Having been a professor for 68 years, what is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
    My answer to this is twofold:
    (1) To see my graduate students succeed in the same profession and turn to the same specialties of exile studies.
    (2) During World War II, to help in the U.S. war effort and to be rewarded with the Bronze Star and the Medal of the French Legion of Honor.
  • Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
    My life has been so long that I have to credit more than one person: My mother with her sensitivity and sense of humor, our synagogue’s cantor and youth leader in my hometown of Hildesheim, Seppl Cysner, who both strengthened my abilities and readily forgave my flaws. They nourished my love of literature and music and modeled for me ethical behavior. Also many of my teachers and professors, and my fellow students, saving me from becoming a nerd. And last but certainly not least my wife, Susanna.
Guy Stern

Guy (Günther) Stern was born in 1922 in Hildesheim, Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1937. From 1940 to 1942, he studied at Saint Louis University, followed by three years of Army service. As a sergeant in the U.S. Military Intelligence Corps, he took part in the Normandy invasion and was decorated with the Bronze Star. In 1948, he earned a BA at Hofstra University and an MA (1950) and PhD (1954) at Columbia University. His teaching career included Denison, Columbia, and the universities of Cincinnati, Maryland and Wayne State (Detroit, MI), the latter as Distinguished Professor for German Literature and Cultural History. He served as guest professor at several German universities and authored/edited numerous books and anthologies about German literary history, focusing on exile and immigrant literature. After retiring, he became director of the International Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Greater Detroit.

Stern is co-founder of the Lessing Society, board member of the Kurt Weill Foundation, and president of the PEN Centre of German-Speaking Writers Abroad.

Stern’s selected honors include Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1987), Honorary Citizen of Tucson, AZ (2007) and Hildesheim/Germany (2012), honorary doctorates from Hofstra University and Hildesheim University, and National Order of the Legion of Honor from the French Republic. He lives in Greater Detroit with his wife, Susanna Piontek, a German writer.