By Matt Ellsworth
Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist and novelist Anna Quindlen spent the evening of Nov. 16 with a dozen Flinn Scholars, wrapping up a weeklong residency at Arizona State University as the 2007 Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecturer.
Invited by Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, Quindlen on Nov. 13 delivered a public lecture entitled, “The Value of Reading and Writing in a Democratic Society” to an audience of some 2,000 at Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium. Her conversation with the Flinn Scholars over a two-hour dinner ranged more widely, from her tastes in popular music and film to her speculation about the possible presidential candidacy of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, from the subject of her next book to how she selects topics for her opinion columns.
Quindlen won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her New York Times opinion columns. Quindlen worked as a reporter and columnist for the New York Post and then the Times between 1974 and 1995, at which point she turned to full-time fiction writing. She has now published five best-selling novels and several nonfiction books and currently writes a bi-weekly column for Newsweek magazine.
Scholars asked Quindlen about regulations restricting women’s combat military service, the subject of one of her recent columns; steps the U.S. might take to strengthen its public perception around the world; which contemporary authors she is most excited to read; and what she thinks of the Harry Potter novels. (She admitted that she had not read the books, but was delighted “that children are picking up books longer than Crime and Punishment.”)
Quindlen posed nearly as many questions to Scholars as she answered, asking them about topics such as their individual academic interests, their decisions to stay in Arizona for undergraduate studies, and their impressions of the new campuses under construction for Barrett and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Quindlen told the Scholars that when she was asked to come to ASU to deliver the Centennial Lecture, she asked her friend and fellow Pulitzer-winning writer David Halberstam—the 2002 Centennial Lecturer—whether she should accept the invitation. “He told me, ‘It’s a good gig,'” Quindlen said, imitating Halberstam’s gravelly voice. “‘You should do it.'” But Halberstam, who died in April, also warned her that she might find herself exceedingly busy.
Indeed, over the course of her week at ASU, Quindlen spoke to several additional audiences, including students and faculty from the Cronkite School, the English department, and Barrett, as well as community members at Tempe’s Changing Hands Bookstore.
In 1985, the Flinn Foundation made a grant of $800,000 to commemorate ASU’s 100th year, endowing the ASU Centennial Lecture. The series began in 1989 with Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. Since then, Centennial lecturers have included luminaries from several disciplines, most recently constitutional-law scholar Kathleen M. Sullivan (2005), and Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist and writer Jules Feiffer (2006).
For more information:
“Pulitzer winner spends week at ASU,” State Press, 11/16/2007