10 questions: Seth Lerer has a way with words


Seth Lerer was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1955 and grew up there and in suburban Boston and Pittsburgh.

He was educated at Wesleyan University, Oxford, and the University of Chicago, and he taught English and comparative literature at Princeton and Stanford before joining the UCSD faculty as dean of arts and humanities in January 2009. Lerer’s interests include medieval literature, the history of the English language and children’s literature. He has lectured widely to public and community groups on such topics as the English language and the past and future of children’s books. His book “Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter” won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award.

For many years, he has been an amateur geologist and jewelry-maker, and for a while he was president of the San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society. He will be the featured speaker at the “Dinner in the Library” event on Sept. 17.

What brought you to the area?

When I took up my new job at UCSD, I was looking for a place during my first transitional year. Henry Abarbanel and Beth Levine were put in touch with me and I have the honor of subletting their house in Del Mar for 2009.

What makes UCSD special to you?

The remarkable architecture and the sense that this is a campus - in spite of current financial troubles - that is forward looking, that sits beautifully on its natural landscape, and that is open to new ideas and unconventional habits.

If I could change anything about the campus, what would it be?

I’d like some benches, so that middle-aged guys like me could sit down every once and a while.

Name one thing that you hope to bring to your position as UCSD’s arts and humanities dean.

A sense of good humor in a time of financial stress.

Is there a common thread between being a dean/professor and being an author?

We all care about audiences: whether they are readers, students, listeners or other faculties.

Of the books you’ve authored, do you have a favorite


“Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter,” published by the University of Chicago Press and a finalist for this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award.?

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

John Barrymore, Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Billie Burke, me and my mother.?

Who or what inspires you?

Classical music and brilliant pianists like Rachmaninoff.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Being the best father I can to my son, Aaron.

What is your motto?

Nothing lasts forever.