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The Folger Spotlight

Words, Words, Words: ‘The Shakespeare Requirement’ by Julie Schumacher

Folger Public Programs is excited to continue our new virtual book club, Words, Words, Words. On Thursday, September 3, we will be welcoming friends from all around the world to discuss Julie Schumacher’s The Shakespeare Requirement. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this satiric look at the follies and foibles of higher learning.

What is The Shakespeare Requirement about?

Cover of 'The Shakespeare Requirement'Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.


Read an excerpt of The Shakespeare Requirement on Shakespeare & Beyond

Critical Reception

Named one of The Washington Post‘s 50 Most Notable Works of Fiction in 2018.

“A clash of cultures — mammon vs. art — burns through this novel, which provides a wry commentary on the plight of the arts in our mercantile era. . . [Fitger] does mean well, and eventually he even manages to do well. And along the way, we get a very funny lesson on the frustrations and machinations of academic life.” — Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Schumacher blends satire with righteousness; she seeks to circle collegiate wagons against external threats to the liberal arts…. Fitger’s choler feels suddenly ardent in the manner of Joan of Arc: he burns with a moral anger, and The Shakespeare Requirement imagines the work of teaching with compassion and urgency.” — Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

About the author: Julie Schumacher

From the author’s website:

Julie Schumacher
Julie Schumacher. Headshot by Catherine Smith photography.

Julie Schumacher grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and graduated from Oberlin College and Cornell University.

Her first published story, “Reunion,” written to fulfill an undergraduate writing assignment (“tell a family tale”) was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1983. Subsequent stories and essays were published in The Atlantic, The New York Times, MS, The Chronicle for Higher Education, Prize Stories: The O.Henry Awards , and other venues.

Her first novel, The Body Is Water , was published by Soho Press in 1995 and was an ALA Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Schumacher’s other books include the national best-seller, Dear Committee Members (winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor); The Shakespeare Requirement Doodling for Academics (a satirical coloring book); and five novels for younger readers.

Ms. Schumacher lives in St. Paul and is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, where she has won multiple teaching awards and has been recognized as a “Scholar of the College.”

Meet our Bookshop Partner: Solid State Books

Solid State Books, DCFor this session, we are excited to partner with Solid State Books. Ideally situated in the heart of the bustling and historic H Street Corridor, Solid State Books provides our neighborhood with a vital intellectual and social hub.

Orders may be placed by phone (202.897.4201) or email Curbside pickup is available at the shop Tuesday-Saturday from 2-6pm, or order online to have your book shipped to you directly.

To learn more, visit their website at

Hear Barbara Bogaev discuss the novel with Julie Schumacher

In November 2018, Schumacher joined the Folger for an episode of the library’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast.

BOGAEV: Julie, I am so happy to have you here because that means I can ask you to read for us from your book, and before you do, if you could first tell us about this character whose mind we’re going to be dipping into, this Shakespeare scholar Dennis Cassovan.

SCHUMACHER: Yes. Professor Cassovan is a professor of the English department in Payne who has been in English the longest of any other faculty member, and he’s a traditionalist. He’s a bit fusty, but he has a lot of dignity, and he very much wants to defend the idea of undergraduates in English being required to take at least one semester of Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: Great, I can see him in his tweeds now.

Listen to the full discussion about The Shakespeare Requirement on Shakespeare Unlimited


Shakespeare bust with glasses

The session is currently full, but stay tuned for more materials next week to help you lead your own discussion and/or further explore this wonderful book.