The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
2020–2021 TASIS Speaker Series Opens with Anna Kraczyna and John Hooper

The TASIS Speaker Series Committee was pleased to host prolific scholar Anna Kraczyna and critically acclaimed author John Hooper, who are currently collaborating on a new Penguin Classics annotated translation of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, on October 14–15. Ms. Kraczyna and Mr. Hooper addressed the TASIS senior class remotely from Casa Fleming on the evening of October 14, held a question-and-answer session with a small group of students afterward, and visited six High School English Literature classes the following day.

Ms. Kraczyna and Mr. Hooper also recently contributed an essay on the significance of the Pinocchio story to the New York Times Book Review, and their evening address in Casa Fleming—a version of which will soon be delivered as a TED Talk—centered on this topic.

Their primary contention is that Collodi’s most famous work, which was written in the 1880s and popularized on a global scale by the Disney film released in 1940, is far more than a children’s story. The Adventures of Pinocchio is, in fact, a story rich in subtle allusions and artful devices with many layers of meaning—akin to Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels—and is viewed very differently by Italians, whose scholars consider it a masterpiece and have written volumes about its significance.

They also contend that Collodi, a master satirist, did not write a book about lying: he wrote a wry satire on the Italian character and pilloried the politicians of the day. Many of the lessons in the story—including its moral, which is not that children should tell the truth but that education brings with it liberation from a life of brutal toil and, most importantly, self awareness and a sense of duty to others—can be applied to problems that continue to plague the world today.

“We would argue that the true message of The Adventures is that until you open yourself up to knowledge and your fellow human beings, you will remain a puppet forever,” concluded Mr. Hooper. “Other people will continue to pull your strings. And what, in these increasingly authoritarian times, ladies and gentlemen, could be more ardently relevant than that?”

In a typical year, TASIS Speaker Series visitors would address the entire senior class in the Palmer Center before visiting classes for the following day or two, but that is not currently possible due to Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings. Yet the TASIS Speaker Series Committee, which is chaired by Dr. Christopher Love, was resolute that this year’s program must proceed regardless of the obstacles, and shifting the address to a webinar—while retaining the classroom visits—was worth the effort.

“I was so pleased to see all the ways that Mr. Hooper and Professor Kraczyna shared their passion for Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio with our students,” said Dr. Love, who has chaired the committee since the fall of 2019. “Drawing on decades of experience in journalism, academic research, and literary study, Mr. Hooper and Professor Kraczyna were eloquent and enthusiastic advocates for the vital role literature can play in understanding our world today and for the richness of Italian literary culture. Mr. Hooper and Professor Kraczyna told me that they were thoroughly impressed by our students’ curiosity and sophisticated questions. It was wonderful to see our students glean insights into Pinocchio, Italian history, translation, and international journalism.”

Mr. Hooper, who also addressed TASIS seniors in October of 2016, is the author of the critically acclaimed The Italians (Penguin, Viking 2015) and is currently the Italy and Vatican correspondent for The Economist. He is also a contributor to other publications, notably the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Mr. Hooper has lived in Italy three times in his life for a total of more than 20 years. The Financial Times called The Italians “an elegantly flowing description of a people,” and Jan Morris described its author as “a supremely able and experienced foreign correspondent who has mastered the detailed and comprehensive study of individual countries.” 

Over his long career as a foreign correspondent, Mr. Hooper has reported from more than 50 countries. His earlier study of contemporary Spain—first published as The Spaniards—won the Allen Lane Award for a best first work of history or literature. It has twice been revised under the title of The New Spaniards and remains in print more than 30 years after its first publication.

Following a successful career as an international fashion model that led her to live in Milan, Paris, and New York, Ms. Kraczyna returned to her native Florence, where she graduated from the Università degli Studi with a degree in Italian Literature. She now divides her time between translating, interpreting, and lecturing at American university campuses in Florence on the language, literature, and society of Italy. She previously taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Stanford University and was recently commissioned by an Italian publisher to produce an annotated edition of a novel by Luigi Pirandello. 

A child of two cultures, Ms. Kraczyna owes her surname to her Russian emigré grandparents and is the daughter of the noted artist and printmaker, Swietlan Kraczyna.

Dr. Love’s IB Literature class decided to meet with Mr. Hooper and Ms. Kraczyna in Casa Fleming. See more photos from the visit.

The TASIS Speaker Series, formerly known as the Senior Humanities Program (SHP) and renamed in the fall of 2018 year to more accurately reflect its present purpose, draws from five fundamental elements of the TASIS identity—truth, goodness, beauty, international understanding, and humanitarian action—to provide TASIS students with a signature educational experience. 

The TASIS Speaker Series Committee selects four speakers each year who embody the pillars of the program. The Committee strives for a variety of voices, backgrounds, and professions represented in each year’s group but ultimately selects speakers on the basis of their ability to enhance the intellectual and moral experience of the outgoing seniors and the community as a whole. 

The 2020–2021 series will continue on November 16. Enrique Poliglotta and Mara Bertelli, the founders of Lugano's Yoga Roof, the electronic bike center Godspeed, and the new local fusion restaurant La Serra, will address the senior class virtually that evening and visit classes the following day.

Although the TASIS Speaker Series focuses on students near the end of their TASIS careers, the program aspires to serve as an educative instrument for the entire division, creating opportunities for all High School students to interact with people and ideas of significance that are concerned with the world beyond the TASIS campus. Students enhance their intellectual experience through discussions, lectures, class visits, and film screenings centered on some combination of truth, goodness, beauty, international understanding, and humanitarian action. Above all else, the program conveys a clear message to students about what the School hopes for and expects from them after they leave TASIS.

The influential program was initially made possible by a CHF 100,000 donation from TASIS parents Michael and Jane Grindfors to The M. Crist Fleming Endowment for International Understanding and Leadership in 2008. It remains an integral part of a TASIS education thanks to ongoing support from the TASIS Board of Directors and the excellent behind-the-scenes work done by a dedicated group of students and faculty members.

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