Author Anna Quindlen speaks in the Bryan Series finale

Marking the end of the 2008-09 Bryan Series, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Anna Quindlen spoke at the War Memorial Auditorium on April 14. Her speech, entitled “Choices and Changes,” focused on two major components of Quindlen’s life: reading and journalism.

“(Text provides) ways in which Americans can transcend their own boundaries and get to what I think is the most useful point for all of us, the point at which we realize that we are all very much the same,” said Quindlen in an interview with The Guilfordian.

A few hours before giving her presentation, Quindlen spoke with a small group of Guilford students – many of them aspiring journalists – in the Community Center about the evolution of her writing career.

Quindlen began her career at age 18 in 1970, working as a copy editor for The New York Post.

“When I was a copy girl, there was a lot going on in what was then called youth culture,” said Quindlen. “Hair was on Broadway, people were marching on the Vietnam War, music was changing. I got a lot of stories coming my way because of that. I took any story. I did anything. Nothing was beneath me.”

Quindlen quickly climbed the ranks, moving to The New York Times in 1977. Her column “Public and Private,” only the third Times column to be written by a woman since the paper’s inception, earned her a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1992. Quindlen went on to write five bestselling books, one of which, One True Thing, about a prodigal daughter who must relearn how to communicate with her family, was made into a 1998 movie starring Meryl Streep.

Her current professional employment as a biweekly columnist for Newsweek and bestselling author is the culmination of decades of dedication. Quindlen’s books and columns are known for containing themes of family ties and methods of communication.

“One of the reasons that I value my writing now almost on a personal level rather than a professional level is that it enables you to live forever,” said Quindlen. “If you write a letter and tuck it away in a book, (your children) can find it, and twenty or more years later, no matter what’s going on, they’ll still feel connected to you.”

This ability to connect through the medium of the written word across divides like time, space, race, and economic class continues to fascinate Quindlen.

At her presentation in the War Memorial Auditorium, Quindlen held up a sheet of paper printed with the words “CALL ME ISHMAEL.” Several audience members correctly identified the words as the first sentence in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

“The letters, taken apart . are meaningless,” said Quindlen. “Yet a hundred years after Melville sat down to write a book about Captain Ahab’s quest for a whale, some English majors in the front know what (the sentence) means.”

Quindlen addressed concerns about the perceived failing nature of both reading and journalism. Though she agreed that print journalism may be a dying industry, she had high hopes for the future of books, despite statistics such as one well-known 2007 government-sponsored study by The Jenkins Group reporting that 42 percent of college students never read another book after graduating.

“How many generations do you know who stood in line at the bookstore and bought a book longer than War & Peace, a plain old-fashioned book – with the words Harry Potter on the front?” asked Quindlen.

“I definitely agree with her,” said attendee Izzy Hayton, a first-year at Guilford. “There’s a lot more hope than people really give (our generation) credit for.