German writer-in-residence concludes short course

Weyhe presents two graphic novels as she finishes time at Allegheny College

German writer-in-residence, Birgit Weyhe, concluded her short course by showcasing two of her own works.

On Wednesday, Oct. 17, Weyhe presented two of her graphic novels to conclude the seven-week short course she taught at Allegheny. Weyhe presented her work in both German and English in the lobby of the Max Kade International Wing on North Village I.

Weyhe was born in Munich in 1969 before moving to Africa where she spent her childhood in Kenya and Uganda. At age 19, Weyhe returned to Germany to complete a degree in German literature and history.

Currently, Weyhe resides in Hamburg and works as a lecturer at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences.

In 2018, Weyhe was named the Allegheny German writer-in-residence by the Max Kade Gesellschaft and the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. The Max Kade Gesellschaft is a foundation that promotes Germanic studies.

As the German writer-in-residence, Weyhe taught a seven week course in German graphic novels.

“(The course) taught me a lot about how to tell a story not only in German but also in English,” Flannery Pillion-Gardner, ’21, said.

The students did a number of activities such as drawing spirals for multiple minutes to help they recall their earliest memories.

“As soon as we were done, (Wehye) was like name cars you can remember from your life,” said Pillion-Gardner. “It was weird, but a lot of memories came back to me that I did not know I still remembered.”

Weyhe worked with the students over the span of the course to help each student create their own German graphic novels.

Pillion-Gardner used the graphic novel to tell the story of an alcoholic sewing teacher she worked with as a child.

As a conclusion to the seven-week short course Weyhe presented two of her graphic novels to students. Weyhe began with the graphic novel, “PHARAOH,” in German.

“I will start in German, which is much easier for me,” Weyhe said. Weyhe explained that it is challenging for her to translate her graphic novels to English because they were written and meant to be read in German.

“PHARAOH” is a story about Weyhe’s childhood in East Africa. As a child, Weyhe and a few of her friends found a corpse behind their school building. One of her friends studied mummies and declared that the corpse was a pharaoh.

Weyhe hosted the second part of her presentation in English.

“It is a little bit like speaking with an egg in mouth, but I will try,” Weyhe said.

Weyhe translated one of her most famous stories, “Madgermanes,” to English for her students.

“Madgermanes,” won both the 2015 comic book prize of the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung and the 2016 Max & Moritz prize for best German language comic.

Weyhe wrote “Madgermanes” after a visit to Mozambique. Weyhe was no stranger to moving. She had moved from Germany to Uganda to Kenya. However, Weyhe explained she found her home in Mozambique.

“I had never been to Mozambique before, but it felt so familiar to me,” Weyhe said.

“Madgermanes” explores the definition of home and belonging. While visiting Mozambique, Weyhe conducted a number of interviews which she then funneled into three main characters for the graphic novel: Antonio, Basilio and Anabella.

“(Wehye) was very open about her experiences and how she got to where she is now,” Pillion-Gardner said.

The three main characters are young adults who flee from Mozambique to East Germany to work in steel, construction, manufacturing and textile industries. But East Germany is  not the escape that was promised. Instead, the workers are met with abusive labor practices and xenophobia.

The graphic novel follows the three characters as they establish their lives as students in East Germany and define home.

“(Wehye’s) final presentation actually blew me away because the stories were very powerful and she is amazing at illustrations,” Pillion-Gardner said.