New Beginnings for the Friends of the Dickens Project Board

June 04, 2021

The current President of the Board, JoAnna Rottke
Mike Stern

The Dickens Project would like to thank the current President of the Friends of the Dickens Project Board, JoAnna Rottke, for all the work she’s done and to extend a warm welcome to the board’s upcoming new president, Mike Stern! This transition will take place at this year’s Dickens Universe.

Both JoAnna Rottke and Mike Stern have been an integral and valued part of the Dickens Project for a long time. Rottke started her work with the Dickens Project in 1997 when she began working as Project Coordinator, and she eventually became Assistant Director. Shortly after retiring in 2016, she was elected President of the Friends and has served as President since. In response to what initially drew her to the Dickens Project, she writes, “Initially, it was just a job, but it was a wonderful and fascinating job.” She felt that the work she was doing was important, and she wanted to be an ally and liaison to the Friends of the Dickens Project Board. 

When asked about fond memories of her time as President and of working with the Dickens Project in general, she says, “I will always treasure our meetings at Barbara’s and all the conviviality around the table. Good food has always been an important part of anything the Friends do.” She jokes that being involved with the Dickens Project is sort of like being in the Mafia in the sense that it becomes an integral part of who you are. She writes, “It just becomes part of your life; it’s in your blood.” 

She would like to extend her warmest congratulations to Mike Stern and says that she is looking forward to serving on the Board under his leadership!

Mike Stern was first drawn to the Dickens Project in 2012 when he heard about the Dickens Universe through an article in The New Yorker. As a former English professor whose favorite author is Dickens, Stern was intrigued and decided that this was something he wanted to be involved in. He first came to the Dickens Universe because of his passion and excitement for Charles Dickens, but he stayed because of the great friends he made through the Universe, because of the excitement for and commitment to Dickens showed by all attendees, and because, as he put it, “There is no other academic conference like it.” He thought that the way in which the Dickens Universe involved the public, high schoolers, and academics was very important, and this has driven his desire to stay involved with the Project. 

Besides being a regular attendee of the Universe, Stern also contributed to the Project in other important ways. In collaboration with John Jordan, the Director of the Dickens Project, Stern made a gift that helped establish the Jordan-Stern Presidential Chair for Dickens and Nineteenth-Century Studies. This has helped the Project tremendously and has helped stabilize the Project financially. 

When asked about some of his best memories of his time with the Dickens Project, he listed the many talks by John Jordan and John Bowen as an example of the excellence and excitement he’s witnessed and been a part of at the Universe. He also remembered how wonderful it always is to hear Miriam Margolyes’s dramatic readings of Dickens, and he is excited to hear this again at this year’s Universe! But some of his fondest memories are of the camaraderie and the friendships he’s made each year at the Universe. The people that come each year are an inspiration to him and part of the reason he keeps coming back and wanting to work with the Dickens Project.

As President of the Friends Board, he is looking forward to the transition back to in-person Universes, and he is also looking forward to helping the Project get on a more stable financial footing. He describes the Universe as exhilarating, and he is excited to help the Project grow and expand and reach even more people. 

Stern considers the Dickens Project and the Dickens Universe to be one of the most important examples of public humanities, and he continues to be excited by the way it involves people from all walks of life and all levels of expertise regarding Dickens. He hopes to help make it even more inclusive, accessible, and dynamic in his years as President of the Board and beyond.