Another, more meditative piece by Thomas will also be performed at the inauguration: the violin duet “Double Helix,” which will be played by Janet Sung and Yuan-Qing Yu. Originally composed at the request of former President Robert J. Zimmer—now the University’s chancellor—for the 2011 dedication of Mansueto Library, Thomas said the piece felt uniquely appropriate to the inauguration. It was recommended for the program by Anne Walters Robertson, dean of the Division of the Humanities.
“President Alivisatos is a chemist, and the piece is inspired by the [molecular] structure of DNA—a double helix,” Thomas said. As a piece of music about science, “it’s also symbolic of the cross-fertilization of disciplines that UChicago is so well known for.”
In addition to the two works by Thomas, Srikanth “Chicu” Reddy, a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, will read an excerpt from his epic poem, “Underworld Lit.” The poem follows a character who meditates on life in academia while embarking on a sometimes-humorous, sometimes-frightening journey through different cultures’ mythologies of the afterlife.
“Underworld Lit,” Reddy said, could only have been written at a great university like UChicago, which not only has experts in world literatures but its own “gateways to the underworld”—quiet recesses like the Oriental Institute and the Regenstein Library stacks—where scholars can descend, metaphorically, into spaces filled with the words and voices of the dead.
Reddy admits that the choice might seem incongruous for an inauguration, but thinks the excerpt will be an appropriate way to welcome Alivisatos, AB’81, back to the unique intellectual community that is the University of Chicago.
“I’ll read from the opening pages, which introduce the book, but more importantly will reintroduce the audience—including President Alivisatos—to the University,” said Reddy, who has taught at UChicago since 2003.
One thing Reddy loves about the University is its communal willingness to engage in constructive critique, and to occasionally step back from the seriousness of scholarly endeavor: a kind of humor and openness to growth that is reflected in the book.
“I think people in the University community want to laugh sometimes at the hilarity of the idealism and frustration that this kind of collective enterprise involves,” Reddy said. “So I hope that we can use comedy as a way of thinking critically—and in a joyous way—about what our hopes are for the University as we begin this new era.”