Quindlen speaks at
Q-A, fall convocation


Anna 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.

She answered 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 Convocation.

During the 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 Church.

Saying CBS 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 presidential election.

When asked 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."

Brooke Barnett, an assistant professor in the School of Communications, was moderator for the Q-A session.

Quindlen spoke 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 and entertainment.

She mentioned 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 could happen."

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.

"Reading 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 write.

"I became 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."

Quindlen is 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.



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Last Modified:  9/28/04
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