Throughout our 61 years as a fellowship award program, The Thouron Award has been fortunate to have many brilliant, caring, and truly compassionate human beings join our community of Scholars. Eugene Stelzig is no exception — he is an accomplished academic professor, writer, and adventurer. Gene, as he is often called, is someone we all should know and many can be inspired by if they wish to find a way to live a comfortable, memorable life as he has.

While the first twelve years of Gene’s life were spent in Austria, his formative years as an adolescent and young adult were spent in the U.S. As a teenager, Gene went on to live with his older sister and her American husband in France. His first insight into American life was gained during his four years studying at the American Dependents School, located in the U.S. Army base in Fontainebleau. Prior to his likely very eye-opening senior year of high school in the U.S., Gene would also spend two years at the Lycée International School.

One could say it might have seemed like a sharp departure from the rich mixture of European cultures to complete high school at Upper Darby High in Pennsylvania. However, it was not for Gene. It led him to the right university that would open up many more doors for his academic pursuits and lead to a very enriching life. It should come as no surprise that Gene studied English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also went on to be awarded the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for graduate study along with his Thouron Award.

Can you guess which he decided to move forward with? Us, of course! “I chose the latter because I was keen on spending two years studying in England at King’s College, Cambridge,” Gene recalls.

The Dressings of a Great First Chapter

From 1966 through 1968, Gene studied English at King’s. It’s where he completed his second bachelor’s degree. During his studies at King’s, Gene had the fortune of studying under leading English literary critic and scholar, Tony Tanner. “[Tony was] one of my tutors for the Cambridge Tripos, Part II examination,” Gene shares. Though his academics were a very important part of his time in the U.K., Gene was equally committed to exploring and enjoying himself while back in Europe.

Gene Stelzig getting his degree at King's College, Cambridge as a Thouron Scholar, May 1969
Gene Stelzig getting his degree at King’s College, Cambridge as a Thouron Scholar, May 1968

“I think my principal reason for applying for the Thouron [Award] was the opportunity to both live and study in England, as well as the delightful prospect of travelling both in England and, during the summers, on the continent,” Gene expresses. And what many wonderful trips he did take! From a motor scooter trip to the Lake District and Wordsworth country to hitchhiking with a Cambridge friend to Salisbury Cathedral and Land’s End, Gene didn’t limit himself.

“The summer after my first year I travelled to Turkey and Greece with another Cambridge friend, and during my second summer I travelled with three fellow Cambridge graduate students to France, Spain, and Portugal in a mini Morris that could barely fit the four of us and our luggage,” Gene states. His friendships with other students continued to grow throughout his time at Cambridge — with those from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. “Studying and travelling, I had the time of my life, thanks to the generosity of the Thouron Award,” Gene admits.

By 1972, Gene would go on to earn his Ph.D. in English from Harvard — which coincided with a major downturn in the academic job market in his chosen field. “I was fortunate to be able to obtain a tenure track position in the English Department of the State University College of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo,” Gene shares. It is that opportunity that would set Gene down a path of stability with a rewarding and comfortable life and career.

A Mid Chapter Filled with Stability

Along with many beautiful summer adventures and lifelong friends, the Thouron Award brought with it a stable academic career for Gene — plus a happy and fulfilled marriage. “During my second year [at Cambridge], I also met the young Dutch woman who became my wife, [Elsje van Munster], and who has shared my life. She was in Cambridge studying English at one of the language schools there for foreign students,” Gene recalls.

Gene Stelzig in 1968 in England with his wife-to-be.
Gene Stelzig in 1968 in England with his wife-to-be.

Upon his return to the U.S., Elsje and Gene married at the end of 1968. With a new marriage and a solid commitment to his professorship, Gene wasted no time excelling in this next chapter of life. During his tenure, Gene focused his interests on British Romanticism, Comparative Romanticism, Autobiography, and Shakespeare. By 1996, he was promoted to the rank of Distinguished Teaching Professor of English by the SUNY Board of Trustees. For 44 years, Gene taught English at SUNY Geneseo. 

“What I’m most proud of regarding my career is that in over four decades at a public liberal arts college with a consistently heavy teaching load, I was able to excel both in teaching and in scholarship and publication,” Gene states. With six published books, nearly 50 peer-reviewed scholarly articles on Romanticism and Autobiography Studies, earning the SUNY Chancellor’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and the Distinguished Teaching Professor of English honour, we wholeheartedly agree with Gene. And still, the accolades do not stop flowing from the works Gene has graced the literary world with.

“One of my books—Henry Crabb Robinson in Germany: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Life Writing (2010) won the Barricelli Prize from the International Conference on Romanticism (ICR) for ‘Excellence in the Field of Romanticism Scholarship’ [and] I also received several grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Gene shares. Most particularly amongst those grants, was a year-long fellowship in 1983 to complete a book manuscript which likely gave way to Gene’s book, Hermann Hesse.

Nonetheless, one of his most delightful memories as a professor at SUNY Geneseo lies in serendipitously returning the favour bestowed by the Thouron Award unto him — the chance to study abroad. “I was able to renew my experience of being in England during six summers between 1997 and 2016 teaching a study abroad course for Geneseo students at New College, Oxford, which also involved side trips to London and Stratford,” Gene recalls.

It is a very proud moment to have members of our community of Scholars be able to literally pinpoint moments in their lives post-award where they are able to pay it forward to future minds of leaders and global citizens.

Gene mid-career at SUNY Geneseo in 1985.
Gene mid-career at SUNY Geneseo in 1985.

What Will Unfold in the Final Chapters

Today, Gene lives on 28 wooded acres with his wife, Elsje, right above one of the small Finger Lakes in Western, NY. Every day they take long daily walks with their dog. It’s quite the peaceful and serene existence many could hope for.

Gene and Wife ca 1990.
Gene and Wife ca 1990.

“I retired from full-time teaching in 2013, and taught part-time for several more years on a senior faculty phase-out program, teaching my last class in the summer of 2017. I’ve kept busy in retirement, completing several academic projects, including a translation into English of the most famous work of German literature by its most famous author, Faust, Part I, by Goethe, published in 2019,” Gene shares.

In addition, his latest work, True Lies and Short Takes: Assorted Life Writing Essays, was published in 2023 by Hamilton Books. It consists of autobiographical pieces written during the past two decades of Gene’s life. And, if his life doesn’t seem poetic enough, Gene’s third poetry collection, Walking Through the Four Seasons: An Impromptu Poetry Journal was also published by Poets’ Choice in December 2021. With such a full life of wondrous stories, it is no surprise that Gene has continued to write poetry on his blog,, for the past several years as well.

When he is not engaged with writing, hobbies like tennis, racquetball, and long walks in all weathers and seasons take up his time. You might wonder, does Gene have any regrets? “In hindsight, my only regret about my two years on the Thouron is that I went down to London only a few times for a weekend, and thus was not able to really explore the cultural riches of that great global metropolis. I also regret that I never made it up to Scotland, or across to Ireland, which I could have easily done during my stay in Cambridge,” Gene acknowledges.

Gene at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, summer 2015.
Gene at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, summer 2015.

He certainly has made up for it with all of his contributions at SUNY Geneseo and his literary work. “I am profoundly indebted to the Thouron Award and the Thouron family for allowing me to broaden my intellectual, social, and cultural horizons and helping to launch me in my academic career as an English professor,” Gene states. For him, the impact of the award was and always will be a rich cultural foundation about English literature and culture that informed his teaching and scholarship.

As for the future of the Thouron Award, Gene has understandably high hopes. “I certainly hope the Thouron Award will continue to stimulate, foster, and support such intercultural exchange and growth for many years — indeed generations — to come in our increasingly global, and alas, also troubled world,” Gene expresses.

Gene with two friends at Penn for their 50th Class reunion, Class of 1966.
Gene with two friends at Penn for their 50th Class reunion, Class of 1966.

Are you interested in becoming a Thouron Scholar? Our application cycle for the 2024/2025 academic year is now open. Learn more about the Thouron Award — one of the most prestigious and generous academic scholarships in the world.

Apply from Penn

Apply from the U.K.