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Where was everybody?

Topics/tags: Rants, short

Last night, I went to an excellent discussion session with Cristina Henríquez, author of this year’s Grinnell Common Read, The Book of Unknown Americans. Today, I saw another conversation with Henríquez at Scholars’ Convocation. I found Henríquez to be thoughtful, articulate, and occasionally incredibly funny. From her discussions of how literature helps us empathize, even with characters we dislike, to the stories of her writing process, to her perspective on keeping things, to her comments on the meaning of the term American, my time at these sessions was time incredibly well spent.

Nonetheless, I’m feeling fairly frustrated.


I guess I should start by paraphrasing the words of a colleague who arrived with a minute or two to spare at the Convocation conversation.

I thought it would be standing-room-only by this time. Where is everybody?

I felt the same way. I showed up thirty minutes early last night so that I could get a seat near the speakers [1]. But that wasn’t really necessary. I was one of the first few to arrive. There were still many spaces left by the time her talk started. There were even free copies of her book left [2]. At least I got to spend the extra thirty minutes with art.

More than four-hundred students should have read Henríquez’ compelling book. A good number of faculty, staff, and community members read the book and participated in conversations about the book. And it’s a really good book. The book is also supposed to be at the center of campus conversations about diversity and inclusion, topics that most of us care deeply about. You would think that we’d have a healthy crowd at each event, even though people at Grinnell are usually busy.

So where was everybody?

Sometimes I hate this place. Maybe it’s time to make Convocation as mandatory as we’ve made the First Year Experience.

Oh well, at least I got to hear two good conversations and had the opportunity to compare Henríquez’ answers to similar questions. I would have liked to have heard her read a bit from her book, but I guess I can always listen to the audiobook version [4].

Postscript: It seems like Henríquez’ visit would have been a great opportunity to partner with Writers @ Grinnell. But I saw little evidence of such collaboration. I wonder if that would have made a difference.

[1] The devices for amplifying or projecting sound. Not Henríquez and Arner.

[2] The books were free in the sense that the College [3] paid for them. Since it’s hard to get a Kindle book signed, I was happy to get a hardcopy.

[3] Or a grant to the College.

[4] She does not read in the audiobook. She said that she asked them to get a cast of readers so that each narrator in the book gets their own voice.

Version 0.1 of 2019-11-21.