Novelizing Frida Kahlo and Dolores del Río, Two Stars of Post-Revolutionary Mexico

Prof. Barbara Mujica

Wednesday, March 1, 8, 15 and 22

10:30 AM – 12:00 Noon


The Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) was the catalyst for an explosion in the arts in Mexico. During the post-Revolutionary period, literature, painting, and cinema all flourished. The painter Frida Kahlo and the actress Dolores del Río were among the most notable of those to participate in this artistic flowering.

Session 1: will provide an overview of the Revolution and the artists it inspired, including the muralists who ushered in a new age in Mexican painting. Of these, the primary focus will be Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s husband, who helped launch her career and promoted it even after the couple divorced. In this session, we will look at Frida’s life and artistic output.

Session 2: will focus more directly on the process of novelizing Frida Kahlo, including the interplay of history, biography, and fiction; the invention of a narrative voice; and the tension between objectivity and subjectivity in biographical fiction.

Session 3: will examine new developments in film in the early twentieth century and the political atmosphere that contributed to the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. In this session, we will look at the life of Dolores del Río: her escape from Durango to Mexico City; her years in Hollywood; her return to Mexico; and her final years as an activist on behalf of Mexican working women.

Session 4: will look at the process of transforming Dolores del Río’s story into a novel: the need for a fictional narrator; the “humanization” of a star; problems of relatability. We will also look at the success of both novels in the United States and examine why these “larger-than-life” women continue to fascinate us.

Barbara Mujica is a Professor Emerita at Georgetown University and a novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic. Her latest novel, Miss del Río, is based on the life of Dolores del Río, Mexico’s first international film star. Published by Graydon House / HarperCollins in 2022, Miss del Río was the Target Book Club pick for October 2022, an Apple Audio “Must Listen,” a Library Journal “best book of the year” selection, and a Washington Post “best recent historical fiction” selection. Mujica’s novel Frida, based on the tumultuous relationship between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, has appeared in eighteen languages. It was an international bestseller and a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate. Her novel Sister Teresa was adapted for the stage at the Actors’ Studio, in Los Angeles. Her novel I Am Venus, inspired by The Rokeby Venus of Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, was a Maryland Writers Association National Competition winner and a quarterfinalist in the Screen Craft Cinematic novel competition. Her first novel was The Deaths of Don Bernardo. Barbara Mujica has written three collections of short stories: Imagining Iraq, Sanchez across the Street, and Far from My Mother’s Home. Imagining Iraq was an Amazon bestseller in 2022 in the categories of War Writing and Iraq War Writing. Mujica’s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals. To read more about Barbara Mujica click here. “Gotlib, Bombero,” and “How José Ignacio Learned to Dance the Hora,” two of Dr. Mujica’s stories, were adapted for the stage by the Braid Theater in Los Angeles. In 2022 she was named an Abby Freeman Artist-in-Residence at the Braid Theater. As a scholar, Dr. Mujica specializes in Early Modern Spanish literature and contemporary Latin American Culture. She is President Emerita of the Association for Hispanic Classical Theater and Founding Editor of Comedia Performance, a journal devoted to early modern theater, which she edited for eighteen years. She has written extensively on Spanish literature, mysticism, the pastoral novel, early modern women, and seventeenth-century theater. Her articles have appeared in many academic journals and essay collections.

In 2022 her scholarly study Women Religious and Epistolary Exchange in the Carmelite Reform: The Disciples of Teresa de Avila won the GEMELA Prize for best book on early modern women of 2021. Dr. Mujica’s other books on early modern literature and theater include Staging and Stage Décor: Early Modern Spanish Theater; A New Anthology of Early Modern Spanish Theater: Play and Playtext; Shakespeare and the Spanish Comedia; Teresa de Avila, Lettered Woman; Teresa de Jesus: Feminismo y espiritualidad; Women Writers of Early Modern Spain; Et in Arcadia Ego: Essays on Death in the Pastoral Novel (co-authored with Bruno Damiani); Iberian Pastoral Characters; and Calderon’s Characters: An Existential Point of View. She has also written many textbooks and edited numerous essay collections and literature anthologies.

Dr. Mujica has won several prizes for her writing. In 2015 her story “Jason’s Cap” won first prize in the Maryland Writers’ Association national fiction competition. In 2016, “Ox” took second, and in 2012, “Imagining Iraq” took third. “Ahmed the Tailor” was a quarterfinalist in the Screen Craft Cinematic Story Competition. Mujica has also won The Trailblazer’s Award for Frida and other writings, the Pangolin Prize for Best Short Story of the Year, the Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award for Fiction, and the E. L. Doctorow International Fiction Competition. In addition, she has won grants and awards from Poets and Writers of New York, the Spanish Government, Georgetown University, and other institutions. She is a two-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize for Fiction. Mujica’s essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Dallas Morning Star, and hundreds of other publications. Her essay “Bilingualism Goal”; was named one of the best 50 op-eds of the decade by The New York Times.

The mother of a Marine, Dr. Mujica has been active in veterans’ issues at Georgetown University since 2010. She was the first faculty adviser of the Georgetown University Student Veterans Association and Associate Facilitator of the Veterans Support Team, a group of administrators, faculty, and students striving to make Georgetown a more veteran-friendly campus. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of MAVRC, the Military and Veterans Resource Center at Georgetown, and frequently speaks and publishes on veteran-related topics. Her book Collateral Damage: Women Write about War was inspired by a symposium she organized at Georgetown on women and war. In February 2015, she was awarded a Presidential Medal by the University for her work on behalf of student veterans. In 2016, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics at Georgetown University. In 2017, she received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life

Prof. Frank Ambrosio

Monday: March 7, 14, 21, and 28

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM


What is the meaning of life? Is human existence meaningful or absurd? These questions have histories, and those histories yield important insights into what it means to be human, even if we discover along the way that questions like these do not have reliable answers.

Using the key metaphorical figures of the Hero and the Saint, this course examines the questions of meaning and responsibility throughout the evolution of two world traditions that address the human search for meaning: The Greek-derived, Humanist philosophical tradition (Hero) and the Judeo-Christian-Islamic theistic tradition (Saint), tracking the two archetypes as they react to and evolve with cultural changes across the centuries until the present.

What am I responsible for? Is meaning to be found in life, if it is to be found at all, by trying to become a Hero or a Saint? Should I try to fulfill my own potential as a person, to be all that I can be, to be a hero in other words, or should I live for the love of others and give my life as a gift to them? What do I owe myself? What do I owe others? How is it possible, (is it possible?), to weigh and balance both sides of the scale? Is it not obvious that the answer is to try to do both – if it were possible to do so?

But the concern of the course goes beyond an exercise in intellectual understanding. The questions of meaning and responsibility point squarely at the one who asks, requiring a personal choice rather than a piece of general knowledge, authorized by some higher authority. Drawing on the work of thinkers from Plato and Jesus to Camus, Simone Weil, and Viktor Frankl, the course invites participants.

Frank Ambrosio is an Associate Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Georgetown University. After studies in Italian language and literature in Florence, Italy, he completed his doctoral degree at Fordham University with a specialization in contemporary European Philosophy.

He is the founding Director, with Edward Maloney, of the Georgetown University “My Dante Project” a web-based platform for personal and collaborative study of Dante’s Commedia. In 2014, he acted as lead instructor for the launch of an ongoing web-based course (MOOC) on Dante offered by EDX ( which currently has been utilized by over 20,000 students.

He has received five separate awards from Georgetown University for excellence in teaching. He is the former Director of the Doctor of Liberal Studies Program, and in 2015, he received the Award for Faculty Achievement from the American Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs.

His most recent book is Dante and Derrida: Face to Face, (State University of New York Press). In 2009, The Great Courses Program issued his 36-lecture course, Philosophy, Religion and the Meaning of Life.

The Current Crisis of Democracy: A New Interpretation

Prof. R. Bruce Douglass

Thursday: March 9, 16, 23, and 30

10:30 AM – 12 Noon


For some time now we have been hearing that even in the West—the birthplace of popular government in its modern form–democracy is in crisis.

It is threatened, certain public figures, journalists, and even scholars have told us, by forces that are intent on making our societies less democratic and achieving their objectives by authoritarian means.

But not all of the forces in question are overtly anti-democratic. In fact, in the West especially, they typically claim (and appear to believe) that they are actually more truly democratic than their opponents! So what really is going on? This course is designed to help the participants make sense of this curious state of affairs. Its focus will be on the complexity of the meaning of the democratic idea, in both theory and practice, with particular attention being paid to three different versions that are all very much in play today: constitutional, populist, and liberal.

Professor Douglass, former chair of the GU Department of Government; Dean of the Faculty, Georgetown College, is a political theorist, specializing in his teaching and research in nineteenth and twentieth-century Western political thought. He is particularly interested in the development of liberal and socialist thought. He also has an active interest in the influence that the religious traditions of the West have had on the development of its political institutions and practice. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Virginia and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His work has appeared in Commonweal, the Journal of Politics, Political Theory, the Political Science Reviewer, the Review of Politics, and The Responsive Community, among other journals. His publications also include: The Deeper Meaning of Economic Life (editor and contributor); Liberalism and the Good (editor and contributor); Catholicism and Liberalism–Contributions to American Public Philosophy (editor and contributor) and The Iron Cage Revisited. He has been one of the editors of The Responsive Community.

Creating Social Impact

Prof. Bill Novelli

Thursday, April 6, 13, and 20

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM


Many of today’s social and environmental problems are enormous and seemingly intractable. They often involve all sectors of society, contentious policies and politics, divided public opinion and behaviors and heavy financial investments. Examples are climate change, debt and deficit, public health, health care costs, social inequities, child hunger and immigration.

What do we owe our grandchildren and future generations? Are we simply passing these huge problems on to them? Or can we make a positive social difference now?

The premise of this Course: We can make a real difference if we tackle these problems in a courageous, systematic, strategic way. We can be the masters of our fate. There are many examples of tackling and mitigating (even solving) huge social and environmental problems. What does it take? This course will present both the challenges and approaches to creating positive, lasting social impact.

This will be a combination of lecture, discussion, guest speakers, and small group sessions among the students. Three social/environmental problems will be analyzed and discussed in the general sessions and in the student break outs. Possibilities are: climate change, serious illness and end-of-life care; tobacco and vaping use among kids, and obesity/overweight.

Learning Objectives: To understand how social impact initiatives work to solve major societal problems, and why some don’t. To encourage our retired faculty and staff to become (more) involved in attacking social issues through volunteering, joining causes, and through other means.

Class Participation: To do the (very few) readings and to engage in class discussion and the small group sessions.

Bill Novelli is a Professor Emeritus in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University where he taught ethical leadership, corporate social responsibility, and other courses in the MBA program. He also founded and oversaw the Georgetown Business for Impact center there. He co-founded and co-chairs the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), a national alliance to reform serious illness/end-of-life care in the U.S. He is involved with numerous other organizations in population aging.

Previously, Bill was: CEO of AARP; founder/president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; EVP of CARE; and president of Porter Novelli, the global public relations agency. He began his career in marketing at Unilever, was an account supervisor at a New York advertising agency and later served as Director of Advertising and Creative Services at the Peace Corps. Bill serves on a number of boards and committees, including in climate action and science and technology, as well as chair of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book is Good Business: The Talk, Fight, Win Way to Change the World (2021, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press)

Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Prof. Michael Collins

Tuesday: April 25, May 2, and 9

2:00 – 4:00 PM


This short course will look at what is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play—Hamlet. We shall discuss the play from three interrelated points of view: (a) the three different versions of the play, (b) the various ways some of its significant moments might be acted on the stage, and (c) the process by which readers and critics, actors and directors, come to an understanding or interpretation of the play. In doing so we shall try to discover what Hamlet—for all its complexity and indeterminacy, for all our inability to agree on its ultimate meaning—might say about the human condition. Participants might want to read the play in advance of the class or watch a filmed version of it.

Michael Collins is Teaching Professor Emeritus in the Department of English. He has taught Shakespeare and British Theatre since 1950. Articles on Shakespeare (focus on performance and pedagogy), modern British poetry, and American literature. He earned his Ph.D. and M.A. from New York University and his B.A. from Fordham College. Publications Collins has written include: Co-Editor (with Michael Scott) Christian Shakespeare: Question Mark (Vernon Press 2022).

How to Innovate… Almost Anything!

Prof. Robert Thomas

Tuesday: April 12, 19, and 26

10:30 AM – 12:30 PM


Innovation is at the core of economic and social development. It is about developing new ideas from a deeper understanding of human needs. It’s not only about new products or services for consumers, but also new ideas in other domains, such as politics (how to run elections?), public policy (a fix for the US health care system?), education (how to raise achievement scores in high schools?), or arts (how to bring performing arts to the masses?). The course is designed around three 90-minute innovation lab sessions following three critical phases of the innovation process: discovery of ideas that can meet human needs, design of an operational concept for the winning idea to meet a specified need, and development of the steps to bring the idea to life. In each session, after learning some basic aspects of each stage of the process, participants will be organized into teams and asked to experience these three phases with real- time assignments.

Bob Thomas is an Emeritus Professor of Marketing at Georgetown University, where he also held numerous leadership positions and launched several new programs. He received his Ph.D. in marketing from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Bob has over 50 publications in the areas of new product development, market segmentation, organizational buying behavior, business-to-business marketing, and forecasting. His book, New Product Development: Managing and Forecasting for Strategic Success, was a featured selection of the Fortune Book Club, and his book New Product Success Stories: Lessons From Leading Innovators has been published in several languages. He is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM).