Today, April 23rd, is World Book Day. So please, don’t forget to open a book. Today and every day. And read. Here at the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues we take books seriously. And we have fun with them, too. Many of the people we invite to campus are distinguished authors who have written timely and influential books. During this pandemic when things have slowed down some for many of us, perhaps we are finding more time to enjoy reading. I hope so. There is extensive scientific research on the benefits of reading, and these benefits go beyond just getter smarter. For example, a study in the journal Science found that reading literary fiction can make us more empathetic. (Maybe that was Don Quijote’s problem: he went crazy reading trashy stories of chivalry.) The Clarke Forum has hosted hundreds of authors over the years. A recommendation for today from our archive: novelist Yoko Tawada interviewed by student project manager Kaila Basile. After you listen to this fascinating interview, you may want to read Tawada’s The Lost Children of Tokyo, a novel that seems especially pertinent at the present moment.
How many of you know why World Book Day is celebrated on this date? Curiously, it is the date, but not the day on which both Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare died in 1616. At that time Spain was using the Gregorian calendar, but England was still using the Julian calendar. Shakespeare actually died ten days after Cervantes, which would have been May 3d, if we were applying the Gregorian calendar retrospectively. Fun facts. But really, this brief note is mainly just a bit of encouragement for all of us: let’s keep sharing our reading-based discoveries!
Our Spring semester programming began last week with a brilliant talk by Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities. She spoke passionately about the important role liberal education must play in the health of our democracy. Pasquerella emphasized central role “educating for democracy” must play in maintaining the health of our society. Democratic societies are by no means unbreakable; the practices, institutions and shared values that sustain them must be continually cultivated and renewed. And this can be achieved, Pasquerella argues, only by a citizenry trained in critical thinking. At the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues we strive to center our work around critical thinking. I was thinking about this earlier today as I was reading Ibram X. Kendi’s acclaimed How to be an Antiracist. Early in the book, Kendi makes the simple but quite astute observation that “Definitions anchor us in principles.” He goes on to say that, “This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.” No doubt Kendi’s talk on Thursday will be grounded in stable, consistent language. We hope to see you there, ready to exercise your critical thinking skills.
We are looking forward to welcoming Thomas Page McBee to campus next week. He is the author of the award-winning memoir Man Alive and also the first trans man to ever box in Madison Square Garden. McBee’s visit is part of this semester’s Clarke Forum theme, Masculinities. One of my early memories related to masculinity is of when I was probably nine or ten years old and one of my older sisters told me to clear the dinner table and start washing dishes. Because we were going to engage in some consciousness raising! (It was the late sixties.) That was the start of a parallel education, led by my sisters and, increasingly over time, my mother. Some of this education was challenged years later when my then future mother-in-law (a very traditional Spanish woman) strongly reprimanded me for trying to help clear the dinner table. She wasn’t having it. (We worked it out, and she came eventually came to accept and appreciate that detail.) It seems to me those experiences and many similar ones I have lived through were of a low-stakes quality compared to those lived by boys and young men today. And that is a good thing, not only for boys but also for girls and young women. For everyone. But also challenging. I don’t have any sons, but I do have a grandson. For many reasons, but for that one especially, I am very eager to listen to McBee to learn more about masculinity. I hope you will join us next Tuesday, October 15th for his talk.
Political drama is in high gear this autumn. We certainly have a full schedule of it right now in Washington. In London, too. (Now, if you stop to think about it, there is political drama going on all over the world, but being attuned to most stories requires reaching beyond the main storylines provided by major media.) As part of our “Breaking Issues” series, on Wednesday the Clarke Forum is sponsoring the panel discussion “Brexit: Where it Stands, What it Means”. This will be an informative event and we are privileged to have three outstanding scholars participate (Mark Duckenfield, from the US Army War College, Oya Dursun-Özkanca, from Elizabethtown College, and Ed Webb, from Dickinson). The news on Brexit changes daily, and sometimes hourly. Years ago, it made sense to talk about the “news cycle” but for some time now the cycle has evolved into a ceaseless avalanche. For many of us, the news avalanche can sometimes overwhelm us, to such an extent that we either take a break or suffer the negative health consequences. In this context, the Clarke Forum can offer a truly important counterbalance. Some brief time to stop consuming news so we can start to reflect on it. This reflection is essential to our well-being. We become not only better informed, but better positioned to be receive future news with less anxiety. And I believe it can even help us become more empathetic.
Today the Clarke Forum welcomes professor Kathy Abrams from UC Berkley School of Law. Abrams will speak this evening about her research on undocumented immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona. The many uncertainties faced by undocumented immigrants no doubt produces a great deal of stress. Just two days ago, we learned about the negative health consequences of stress from professor Zaneta Thayer of Dartmouth College. Thayer’s research focuses on the negative health impacts of inequality and how these impacts are passed on from one generation to the next. The article (link below) below illustrates quite well the intersection of these two issues in the lives of dreamers who risk everything to become doctors. As Abrams will show tonight, narrative is a great tool for understanding complex issues.