Remembering Ernest Callenbach (1929 – 2012)
The Los Angeles Times considered Ernest Callenbach to be the most recent in a long line of great names such as Wells, Verne, Huxley and Orwell after he became more widely know in the 1970s, first in the US and later in Europe and Japan, with his literary utopia Ecotopia.
In his book, a bestseller which was widely read – sometimes as pirated copies – and one which put him at the forefront of the global environmentalist movement, Callenbach envisages a society that is at once ecologically sound, socially just and politically sustainable as well as one that is still open to new technologies.
In the decades that followed, Callenbach’s vision of an ecological utopia became one of the cornerstones for political discussions within the environmental movement and began receiving increasing attention from literary critics. It also became part of the curriculum in schools and universities. This was especially true in Germany. So, it is no wonder that during his frequent visits to Germany, which he held in high esteem, he was warmly, sincerely and happily welcomed not just in lectures as a guest speaker and in people’s homes as a friend but by all kinds of politicians from the local level right up to Germany’s national parliament as well.
Ernest Callenbach maintained a special relationship with the University of Freiburg and whenever he was on a lecture tour through Germany, he always made sure that Freiburg was on the itinerary. And in spite of other, sometimes demanding, commitments he always made time to hold lectures and take part in discussions with friends, colleagues and students in Freiburg. Following the proposal of the English Department, the Faculty of Philology awarded Mr. Callenbach an honorary doctorate in 2009 as sign of the University of Freiburg’s appreciation and its special bond.
After studying at the University of Chicago and the Sorbonne in Paris, Ernest Callenbach worked as a film critic and was a founding editor of the Film Quarterly, one of the best-known film magazines worldwide. Film Quarterly is published by the University of California in Berkeley, where “Chick” – as he was known to his friends – had lived since the late 50s. He was also the editor of various other prestigious journals published by the University of California Press.
Callenbach became a culturally critical writer during the politically and socially eventful 70s when he began responding to the increasingly problematical ecological and social developments in the US and other industrialized countries. The literary utopias, Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging, were not the only products of this response. He also wrote various works of non-fiction, the titles of which indicate a broad spectrum of social and political interest: The Art of Friendship (with Christine Leefeldt), Living Poor with Style, A Citizen Legislature and Bring Back the Bison.
In the recent past, Callenbach, who had remained active right up into his eighties (the New York Times described him as an “eerily fit man” in 2008), focused on criticism of global finance capitalism and continued to promote new forms of post-capitalist, sustainable forms of economic activity and ways of living in his essays and lectures.
Even as Ernest Callenbach became ever more well-known, he never lost his modest, sunny and undogmatic disposition. And he was always willing to listen to anyone (or even invited them into his home in Berkeley) who wanted to talk about ideas that might lead to a better future.
Ernest “Chick” Callenbach died of cancer on April 16, 2012. We would like to extend our best wishes to him as he set out on what he refered to as his “next journey”.
We would also like to offer our most heartfelt condolences to his family and most especially to his wife and long-time companion in all areas of his life – Christine Leefeldt.
Gert Fehlner und Wolfgang Hochbruck (Freiburg); Gerd Hurm (Trier)