Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author Tracy Kidder’s demeanor is conversational, funny and at times self-deprecating, but this only adds to his warmth.
This openness made Kidder’s question-and-answer session at Marshall especially effective. The students came prepared with questions and weren’t shy to raise their hands and speak to Kidder. In class they had read a section of his most recent book, Strength in What Remains, the story of Deogratias, an African refuge who escaped during the Rwandan genocide, arriving in New York City with $200 and no English. Deo’s story, like most of those Kidder has followed, is one of amazing personal strength, scattered with moments of both astonishing luck and gripping pain that show the many, very real sides of his characters.
Affected by the Deo’s story and Kidder’s dedicated portrayal of it, the students wanted to know how Kidder meets his subjects, how he decides which people to write about, and why he wanted to write in the first place. Kidder answered these questions with entertaining anecdotes that often had the students laughing. He said he writes out of a love for the difficulty and satisfaction that comes with finding a story and “pulling something beautiful out of all the chaos.”
Kidder turns out to be the perfect person to speak to young writers, not only because of his raw interest in the craft, but also for his telling reflections on the editing process. Though he feels editing is the most difficult part of writing, often leaving him lost and confused, he appreciates it for what it is: “In what other department of life do you get to say something and take it back and make it better before anyone sees it?”
The session accomplished just what WITS’s author visits aim to do: demystify the writing process for students, helping them see the authors they read in class as real people with passionate minds and attainable goals. As Kidder said at the start of the session, one of the reasons he began writing (besides to impress his female classmates) was because a professor made writing seem like a grand calling, but one that was within his reach.
On the car ride back to his hotel, Kidder reported being impressed with and inspired by the students’ minds and true interest in writing. “Those were some of the best questions I’ve ever been asked,” he said.
Thank you Marshall students and teachers, and Renaissance Arts Principle Fred Locke!
-Kelly, WITS Intern