Jill Lepore Visits Madison High School

By Joanna Rose, James Stone, and Jeremiah Marcum:

The 34th season of Portland Arts & Lectures launched on Thursday, October 11 with Jill Lepore, award-winning historian, staff writer at The New Yorker, and author of the just published These Truths, a history of the United States.  Her lecture at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall was much anticipated, and her packed schedule in Portland included Think Out Loud on OPB as well as an afternoon visit to Madison High School.

Lepore spoke to about 60 students who were primarily from teacher Gene Brunak’s AP Language and Composition classes, whose focus this term was on non-fiction and rhetoric. There were also students from Mr. Brunak’s Journalism class. Lepore, who has three teenagers of her own, introduced herself to the students with stories of the road and of her life as a historian, including hilarious and enlightening tales of her high school history teacher. Then she took questions. The students were very well prepared, with questions about such topics as the role of technology in the history of slavery, her perspective as a woman historian, her preferred methods of research, the role of students in the real world, and, a final zinger, what she thought of Howard Zinn.

     Many of the same students went to Lepore’s lecture later that night, as part of the Students to the Schnitz program. She described the Madison visit to her audience at the evening lecture as “…the day’s highlight…”

Madison students James Stone and Jeremiah Marcum contributed their thoughts on her talk at Madison:

 James: “… Sitting in the back listening to her speak about American history was extremely troubling. It wasn’t bad in the sense that she was wrong, it was simply horrendous to hear about what had happened in American history that so many people are unaware of. For example, Jill Lepore talked about Jane Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister, who was of similar intellect and scope – yet, while Benjamin had gone off and explored, she was raped at fifteen and then married and birthed 12 children, 11 of which had died. It was interesting to hear the perspective on a forgotten person from history, rather than the generally popular historical figures.”

Jeremiah: “I believe that the visit from Jill Lepore was enlightening, in a subdued sense. She didn’t talk much about American History. The questions we asked were more on the how she got where she was, and what she believed she was saying, and how she believed her experiences were critical to not only her career and writing topics, but also her previous works’ meanings and inspirations. Something I pulled from the experience was that determination and time can get you where you need to be, evidenced by her own experience beginning as a secretary. She was able to complete her work very easily, leaving plenty of time with nothing to do. Her solution was very unique in that she decided against working slower, and favored getting everything done so that she could spend her extra time writing novels. The visit from Jill Lepore was nothing short of amazing.  On top of her praise of Madison, she stated that teenagers had much more power in the form of protests than many others with literal power, in the form of laws or money.”

We hope to continue to showcase student feedback from author visits in future blog posts.  Let us know what you think!