March 2, 2011 - 10:34 PM
Last night, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder spoke about his book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, and the organization Partners in Health. The event was arranged by Alex Goodell, who was a friend freshman year in the dorms. When he read Mountains Beyond Mountains, he was inspired to begin working in global health, and to engage deeply in the work of international development and aid. Because of his work, the Honors College named Mountains Beyond Mountains as the summer reading book for incoming freshman in the 2009-2010 academic year, and this year it was the required book for all UO freshman.
I find works like this so inspiring, in hearing the stories of individuals who have dedicated their lives to making change, and have managed to create dynamic and vital new means of addressing the structural violence and poverty of the world.
Tracy Kidder is an amazing writer, and brought the story of Paul Farmer and the formations of Partners In Health into global focus with his book. It was an honor to have him on campus, and to hear stories of the successes of the organization.
However, I have to throw a wet blanket over the event happiness. The speech was held at the brand new Matt Court: the new basketball arena. I had never been in the building before, and was interested to see what the new colossus on campus was all about. Beyond the irony of hearing about global poverty surrounded by the corporate symbology of the place, this is possibly the worst venue for a speech I have ever seen. The sound was bad, the screen displaying the pictures was an intimidating and dominating feature of the space directly over the speaker's head, and a high-pitched noise dominated the space for most of the event. I could only understand about 75% of the speech, and that was further inhibited by his distraction at the echoes of his own voice.
I was happy to hear the stories of a journalist who has become so inspired by an organization. I would have liked to hear from Paul Farmer himself, and to find more of the personal within the narrative. But more than any content concerns I might have, I learned about the importance of space in the creation of a successful event. I will probably never enter that building again. What a waste.
Anyway, Trace Kidder, ladies and gentlemen. As always, I am gratified when internationally acclaimed figures visit our campus, particularly when invited by students and student groups. I plan to read the rest of Mountains Beyond Mountains, particularly to discuss with my roommate Lesley, who felt her life's pursuit of public health to be affirmed by the event. So, inspiration and frustration in a single speech!