Quindlen, best-selling author and winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize
for Commentary, spent the day at Elon University as the Baird Pulitzer
Prize lecturer Sept. 27.
an array of queries from people in the Elon community at an afternoon
question-and-answer session hosted by the School of Communications,
and followed that by delivering the keynote speech at Elon's Fall
Q-A session, Quindlen defended the work of American reporters in
the face of the flap over CBS News' lack of verification of documents
regarding George W. Bush's service in the National Guard. She said
news organizations do their best to self-police and have done well
in contrast to government and business entities and the Catholic
made "a big mistake" and has "some housecleaning
to do," she also added that media coverage of the CBS errors
has gone to an extreme, adding that voters need to be informed about
the economy, Iraq and other more important issues just before the
about issues, she recalled how she "almost accidentally"
began writing about the rights of gay men and lesbians in her New
York Times op-ed column. "Of any issue I've written about in
the last 15 years, the issue of gay men and lesbians has moved the
farthest." Quindlen said. She addressed recent statistics that
show 700,000 new children
are living in poverty in America and criticized the U.S. for going
to war in Iraq. She said the money could be better spent domestically.
"I was against the incursion in Iraq from the beginning,"
she said. "I was furious with the Democrats because they laid
down on that vote." She also called the poverty level of $18,000
a year for a family of four "utterly laughable."
an assistant professor in the School of Communications, was moderator
for the Q-A session.
about the limitless value of reading in the Fall Convocation address
she delivered to a large crowd in Alumni Gym. "I read like
a maniac," she said. "Reading has always been life unwrapped
for me." She shared personal anecdotes and employed quotatations
and examples from other writers, including Jacques Barzun and Madeleine
L'Engle. She pointed out the spectacular success of the Harry Potter
books by J.K. Rowling in defense of her view that the reading of
books is not a dying pursuit in this age of digital information
a favorite chair in which she used to read as a child. "When
I think about my childhood, I'm always in that chair," she
recalled with a smile, "and my mother is in the door saying,
'It's a beautiful day; all your friends are outside.' And even when
I did join my friends there was always a part of me - the best part
of me - back home in a book ... In my life, there was waking and
sleeping and then there were books - a parallel world where anything
She spoke of
the impact of books, tracing a short history from the invention
of writing by the Sumerians to Plato's inaccurate prediction that
the written word would lead to a lack of deep thought and diminished
intellectual growth. "Reading is a pathway to the world without
geographic boundaries," she said, citing works such as "The
Diary of Anne Frank," "The Red Badge of Courage,"
"All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Naked and
the Dead" as examples of works that can put readers inside
a battle, a war.
is the ultimate democratic act," she said. "Knowledge
is power. The truth shall set you free." She condemned the
banning of books that continues today around the world - even in
the United States. She also encouraged those in her audience to
a writer by reading," she said. "If I were hit by a bus
tomorrow, what would be left of me for my children? ... They could
read and there I would be, talking to them, alive ... Writing is
you, forever. It can totally belong to you. Writing is using words
to give the soul voice."
She added that
people who died in the terror attacks Sept. 11, 2001, would probably
say they wished they had left some writing behind for their families,
and added that everyone should write more and keep it as a personal
record. She said she understands that this isn't easy. "I really
don't want you to think I like to write," she said. "I
hate to write ... I hate having to do it over and over again ...
It's sort of like housework. But I love having written, and I can't
have one without the other ... In writing, what you have in concrete
form is yourself."
the fourth Baird Lecturer to visit Elon since 2001. Others in the
group include David McCullough, David Halberstam and Thomas Friedman.
The series is endowed by a gift from James H. and Jane M. Baird,
residents of Burlington, N.C., and the first presidents of Elon
University's Parents Council. Their son Macon is a 1987 Elon graduate,
and their son-in-law Michael is a 1989 Elon graduate.