Each summer, the Great Books Summer Program welcomes fantastic guest speakers in the world of writing and filmmaking to our campuses at Amherst College, Oxford University and Stanford University. This summer’s speakers at Stanford sparked conversation, shared experiences and inspire. Below is the dispatch from Stanford on each of the guest speakers and their impact on the students:
Nell Scovell is a journalist, speechwriter and television writer, producer and director. Recently, she co-authored Lean in for Graduates with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Nell’s talk was so, so important, particularly for the young women in the room. Her very brass tacks address of gender discrimination in leadership, specifically in the entertainment industry, was both a necessary warning for the students and a powerful reminder for the staff that there is much work left to do to achieve true gender equality. Her speech dealt less with writing than with the state of affairs pertaining to these social issues, and their line of questioning reflected that.
Tom Barbash is an educator, award-winning, critically acclaimed author, and critic with many notable literary successes under his belt. His most recent book, the story collection Stay Up With Me has received accolades from The New York Times, among other publications.
Tom’s talk dealt much more with the process and craft of writing. The students were rapt as he shared his own work with them, and I’m sure that they would have enjoyed hearing much more of it. Tom offered a wide variety of insight into his personal process, including his method of internalizing criticism and applying it to the editing of his work. Many students cited Tom’s talk as their favorite activity of the week.
Lavinia Spalding is a writer, editor, teacher, public speaker, the series editor of The Best Women’s Travel Writing, and she recently wrote the introduction for a reissued e-book edition of Edith Wharton’s classic travelogue, A Motor-Flight Through France.
Lavinia offered a fantastic alternate model for where a passion and talent for writing can lead you. Many of the students had never actually considered the possibility of applying their talents to travel writing, and they offered insightful questions about the nuances of fictional/non-fictional work. She reminded all students that the most important aspect of her own writing was keeping a dedicated journal, from which she transcribed her pieces. She spoke of her fascination with the nuances of daily life in new places, a notion that the students seemed to connect with strongly.
Allyson Hobbs is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Stanford University. Allyson’s first book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, will be published by Harvard University Press this September.
Allyson was wonderful and we all felt privileged to have a peek into her forthcoming book A Chosen Exile, about racial identity and the phenomenon of “passing for white” among African Americans over the generations in the US. And since one of her core motivations was an old oral story on her family about a cousin whose mother chose for her to “pass” you can imagine how intent the kids were on every word.