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Chance Meetings Session 1: Rachel Cohen—An Introduction

Wednesday, May 22, 2024


12:30 pm Eastern


Chance Meetings Session 1: Rachel Cohen—An Introduction

Rachel Cohen, author of A Chance Meeting, the newly reissued group biography that inspires this online literary seminar, delivers its first talk: “Chance Meetings—A Personal American History.”

A few years before the Civil War, the young boy and future novelist Henry James had his photograph taken by Mathew Brady; a few years after the War ended, the poet Walt Whitman was also photographed by Brady. What thin filaments connect these two occasions?

Chance encounters seem ephemeral, yet they may have deep and lasting effects. Bringing in moments between Ulysses Grant and Mark Twain, Sarah Orne Jewett and Willa Cather, William James and W.E.B. Du Bois, this lecture will continue through the first World War and its ruptures, taking a view that is “at once intimate and sweeping” (The New Yorker) to see how personal history accumulates into enduring culture.

Students are encouraged to read the featured text in advance of the session, which in this instance are the opening chapters of Cohen’s A Chance Meeting.

This talk took place on May 22, 2024. A video recording may be purchased for on-demand viewing until the series comes to a close in early 2025. Upon purchase, registrants will be sent a video link directly from the Authors Guild Foundation.


Rachel Cohen is the author of three books of nonfiction, most recently Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels, which was published in 2020 to critical acclaim. Her group biography, A Chance Meeting (2004), has just been re-released as a New York Review Classic. Her essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The London Review of Books,and The New York Times,among other publications, and her work has been included in Best American Essays and Pushcart Prize anthologies. She is Professor of Practice in the Arts in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Chicago.

Chance Meetings: online literary seminars featuring writers talking about classics of American literature

Presented by the Authors Guild Foundation, this new online literary seminar is inspired by Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting, a dazzling group biography that offers a striking vision of the making and remaking of the American mind and imagination from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.

Following the book’s spirit and shape, the monthly sessions feature talks on beloved and thought-provoking classics of American literature by contemporary writers with a personal connection to the works they are discussing. Cohen herself will lead two talks and circulate an e-newsletter to students in the weeks between sessions.

View all Chance Meetings events here.