Great Books Council of San Francisco

Barbara McConnell

Great Books Weekend at Asilomar

One of the major events of the year for the Great Books Council of San Francisco is the spring weekend at the Asilomar Conference Center in Monterey, California, named in honor of beloved Great Books leader Barbara McConnell. During the weekend there are discussions of poetry, a work of nonfiction, a work of theatre and a work of fiction. The beauty of the area is conducive to stimulating discussions and convivial parties.

Our next Asilomar weekend will be held on April 13-15, 2018. We'll discuss the following:

W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. Du Bois was a key figure in post-Civil War America, studying and speaking on behalf of those who lived “beyond the Veil of Color.” These 1903 essays occupy an important place in African-American history, as well as in the development of sociology as a field of study. This is no dry treatise, though: Du Bois uses music, poetry and humor to explore his subject with grace.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Asilomar goes sci-fi! Le Guin’s classic work, which won the Hugo and Nebula Awards and sits on almost every top-ten list of science fiction masterpieces, is now approaching the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. We’ll celebrate by going on the Gethen world tour and discussing what we find there.

Eugene O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh

The rough denizens of Harry Hope’s bar sustain themselves with pipe dreams and look forward to the annual visit of the fast-talking salesman Hickey -- but this year’s visit may be different. We’ll close the weekend with a discussion of O’Neill’s great modern tragedy.

Selected poetry

As usual, we’ll kick off the Asilomar weekend with an evening of poetry discussion. This year’s poems are by Paisley Rekdal, Theodore Roethke, Clive James, Emily Dickinson and Howard Nemerov.

Of course we'll have time to be social, too, taking some time out for a party on Saturday evening. Dr. Corie Ralston will join us for the weekend, and will address us during the party. Her fiction has been published in Strange HorizonsClarkesworld, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, among others. She directs the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and is also the managing director for the Speculative Literature Foundation. 

Registration for Asilomar 2018 is now open! There are two ways to sign up:

During retreats in recent years we've discussed the plays Of Mice and Men, The Piano Lesson, Marat/Sade, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and King Lear; works of fiction Cannery Row, Seize the Day, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Secret Sharer, and A Thousand Acres; and nonfiction works by John Steinbeck, Alexander Hamilton, Vladimir Nabokov, Annie Dillard, and Abraham Lincoln; as well as selected poetry. To see a full list of what's been discussed during our 50+ years at Asilomar, please click this past discussion list.

The Asilomar event co-coordinators are Rob Calvert and Louise Morgan. Rob can be reached via email at

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