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University of Delaware Faculty Profiles

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  • Richard Zipser, Professor Emeritus of German

    Professor Emeritus of German
    University of Delaware
    319 Jastak-Burgess Hall
    Newark, DE 19716
    (302) 831-6882


    Richard Zipser is a graduate of Colby College, Middlebury College, and The Johns Hopkins University. From 1969 to 1986, he taught German language and literature at Oberlin College, where he chaired the Department of German and Russian from 1982 to 1986. From 1986 to 2013, he was Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Delaware. In 1989-1990, he served as Acting Associate Provost for International Programs and Special Sessions, and in 1999-2001 as Special Advisor for International Affairs to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Zipser retired on August 31, 2014.

    Dr. Zipser’s field of specialization is literature of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). He has authored/edited or co-authored/co-edited nine books, editions, or edited compilations, published a large number of scholarly articles, book chapters, and book reviews, and served on various editorial boards. In 1977-1978, with the support of an International Research and Exchanges Board Scholarship, he conducted research in the GDR. In 1980-1981 he was a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and in 1992-1993 he was Visiting Humanities Fellow at The Johns Hopkins University’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.


    Dr. Zipser has published three major books that focus on different and very important aspects of GDR literature and cultural politics: In 2013 he published Von Oberlin nach Ostberlin. Als Amerikaner unterwegs in der DDR-Literaturszene, a documentary memoir based on experiences he had with writers and the secret police (Stasi) while doing research and travelling in communist East Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. The memoir draws heavily on a 344-page file the secret police compiled on him with the help of informants, sections of which are incorporated into the book along with appropriate commentary. He is currently translating the memoir into English and has created a website where the translations can be viewed: In 1995 he published Fragebogen: Zensur. Zur Literatur vor und nach dem Ende der DDR, a documentary with a critical introduction and interviews with 70 former GDR writers on the topic of literary censorship. In 1985 he published, with the collaboration of Dr. Karl-Heinz Schoeps, DDR-Literatur im Tauwetter: Wandel-Wunsch-Wirklichkeit. This three-volume book contains a critical introduction, literary texts by 45 GDR writers, interviews with these writers, their statements on writing, and bio-bibliographical sketches. It documents in a comprehensive way the short-lived period of “thaw” in GDR cultural politics, from 1971 to 1977, when ideological restrictions on literature and the arts were relaxed.

    From 1986 to 2014, Dr. Zipser was General Editor of DDR-Studien/East German Studies, a series of scholarly monographs on topics in the humanities and social sciences pertaining to the GDR.

    Professional Activities and Awards

    Dr. Zipser is the recipient of numerous awards, including: Excellence in Service Award, College of Arts and Sciences, for outstanding contributions in the areas of foreign language education and study abroad, 2001; Order of Excellence Award, from the Delaware State Board of Education, for outstanding service as Co-chair of the State Foreign Languages Curriculum Framework Commission, 1997; Merit Award, from the State of Delaware Department of Public Instruction, for distinctive contributions to the program of public education in Delaware, 1997; Foreign Language Advocate of the Year Award, selected by the Delaware Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 1995.

    In 1987, he served as President of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages Executive Committee, Modern Language Association. At the 1985 Leipzig Book Fair in the GDR, Dr. Zipser had the privilege of presiding over an exhibit of “America’s Best: Prizewinning Books 1983-1984.” This exhibit, the first of its kind, was sponsored by the United States Information Agency and the American Embassy to the GDR in East Berlin. From 1983 to 1985, he served as Representative to the Delegate Assembly for the Division on Twentieth-Century German Literature, Modern Language Association.

    In 2014, in recognition of his years of outstanding service to the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Zipser was selected as a recipient of the College’s Lifetime Service Award.


    Ph.D., German, The Johns Hopkins University

    M.A., German, Middlebury College

    B.A., German, Colby College


    Von Oberlin nach Ostberlin

    Seine Recherchen zur DDR-Literatur führten den amerikanischen Germanisten Richard Zipser ab 1973 wiederholt von Oberlin im US-Bundesstaat Ohio nach Ostberlin, Hauptstadt der DDR. Zeitgleich wurde seine Stasi-Akte angelegt, die bis 1988 auf viele hundert Seiten anwuchs. Diese Geheimdienstberichte gaben den Anstoß zu seinen Erinnerungen an die Literaturszene und den Alltag in der DDR. Aus den Kontakten zu zahlreichen Schriftstellern wurden mitunter Freundschaften wie die mit Jurek Becker, Elke Erb, Karl-Heinz Jakobs, Bernd Jentzsch, Sarah Kirsch, Ulrich Plenzdorf, Klaus Schlesinger und Christa Wolf. Zu denen, die über Zipser berichteten, zählen die Schriftsteller Uwe Berger, Fritz Rudolf Fries und Paul Wiens, der Verleger Konrad Reich, ein Juristen-Ehepaar sowie Stefan Heyms Haushälterin. Durch genaue Beobachtung, interessante Episoden und prägnante Zitate entsteht ein höchst persönliches 

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  • Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures
  • Jastak-Burgess Hall
  • University of Delaware
  • 30 East Main St.
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-2591