Bestselling author speaks at Marshall Artists Series event

While the bestselling author may have written about the “somewhat United States” in her newest book, the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse was filled with unified smiles and laughter during the Marshall Artists Series event “An Evening with Sarah Vowell.”

Vowell walked through history with the audience as she discussed her historical piece, “Lafayette and the Somewhat United States,” Saturday with the Marshall University and Huntington communities. Vowell spoke of how she enjoyed learning about Marquis de Lafayette for the book because he was a French man that people agreed to love during a time that the U.S. people could not agree on much else, in Vowell’s opinion. 

The event was a combined effort on the part of the Marshall Artists Series, the John Deaver Drinko Academy and the Gamma Chi chapter of the National History Honorary, Phi Alpha Theta. Montserrat Miller, a professor of history at Marshall and the executive director of the John Deaver Drinko Academy, spoke of how she thinks Vowell is a person that is able to bring together people of different majors and interests, just like Marshall does. 

“Marshall is a place that has so much to offer to students from all majors, all departments, all colleges and all schools,” Miller said. “And Sarah Vowell is a figure that really brings students of varying majors and varying interests together because they’ve enjoyed her work, learned from her and been inspired by her.”

Miller said she believed Vowell’s lecture captured the attention of those who enjoy history, but the event could also be a starting point for people who have not been interested in the subject before. 

“I think it (‘An Evening with Sarah Vowell’) offers an entrance point. It’s like what we would call in the culinary world an ‘amuse-bouche,’” Miller said. “It’s a little, tasty morsel that excites the appetite and will encourage people who don’t necessarily think that 18th century U.S. history is their thing, but maybe it is. Maybe it should be a thing for all of us to renew our interest in and our enthusiasm for, especially presented in the form that Sarah Vowell offers.”

After Vowell gave the audience a glimpse of history by discussing her published work, audience members were given the chance to ask questions. Questions varied between how she decides what or who to write about to possibilities of future pieces. 

One event attendee asked Vowell if having her knowledge of history gives her a more optimistic or pessimistic view of the world. Vowell answered by saying it was a realistic perspective she gained through her writing. She also referenced how in her Lafayette piece, the book discusses how the United States formed from a lot of people disagreeing with each other, but she does not necessarily see that as a bad thing.  

The question and answer portion of the evening resembled an event that took place earlier in the day in the Drinko Library Atrium, “A Conversation with Sarah Vowell.” This event allowed students and faculty to have personal conversations with the author, exploring topics beyond “Lafayette and the Somewhat United States.” 

Attendees asked questions regarding how Vowell ended up working at the New York Times, if she had always wanted to be an author, if there are specific characteristics that attract Vowell to write about specific topics and more.

Angela Jones, director of marketing for the Marshall Artists Series, spoke of how she enjoyed the small gathering and hoped those attending both the conversation and the event in the Playhouse would find the author as interesting as she does. 

“I think the conversation was great. I loved the diversity of the crowd, young and old, and I loved the questions. I thought the questions were very interesting,” Jones said. “I hope they (attendees) enjoy her. I found her very fascinating to listen to at the Q&A today so I hope they walk away from this the same way.”

The next Marshall Artists Series event will be “Cirque Musica presents Holiday Wishes” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Keith-Albee Theatre. Full-time students can get one ticket for free, and part-time students can get one ticket at half price. Tickets will be available starting Dec. 2 at the Box Office, which is open 12 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Sarah Ingram can be contacted at [email protected].