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Fear and Freedom In A Time of Distrust: Zadie Smith and Hunter S. Thompson

Mondays, January 6 – February 10, 2020
from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (six sessions)
925 SW Washington Street Portland, OR 97205

Where have the gonzo journalists gone? Who is proudly owning the biases of their bylines? What use to a readership is a novelist turning to journalism? Why do we invest trust in certain writers above others? How has social media changed authors’ abilities to construct personas?

Zadie Smith and Hunter S. Thompson are an unlikely pairing. Their arrivals to world fame coming from London and Louisville respectively. Thompson wrote through the 60s to his death in 2005; Smith writes today. Their voices couldn’t be more different: Thompson being punchy, outrageous, sometimes cruel, often chaotic; Smith being measured, cautious, bordering on academic, always with a wink of irony. Yet both authors scribe essays in an inevitable way, as if despite their greater aspirations of writing fiction, they can’t help but center themselves in commentary on our reality.

We’ll read Thompson’s articles on Watergate, the 1972 presidential election, 9/11, the reemergence of White supremacy after the election of George W. Bush, and the killing of Ruben Salazar; we’ll read Smith’s work on Brexit, the 2016 presidential election, climate change, personhood in social media, and cancel culture. While assessing each piece independently, we’ll also consider these authors in juxtaposition. Over the six weeks of this seminar, we’ll see how fear and freedom has grown privately, politically, consciously through the journalistic oeuvre of these two giants. We’ll see who we can trust in a time of misinformation.


Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S. Thompson
Songs of the Doomed by Hunter S. Thompson
The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

Benjamin M. Ficklin

Benjamin M. Ficklin is an author, photographer, and event-coordinator from Portland, Oregon. A member of the Eugene-based literary collective The Stonecutters Union, he organizes readings to fundraise money for various humanitarian and environmental nonprofits. His recent work has appeared in LomographyAutreBang!, and The Stonecutters Union anthologies.
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