On Thursday, April 27, 2017 author and essayist Laila Lalami held several events. Her time at UCSB began with a Thematic Learning Circle at the Multicultural Center. There she interacted with about 20 invited campus and community members whose interests and initiatives align with the values and ideas Lalami focuses on in her writing. Specifically, Lalami spoke about her award-winning book, The Moor's Account.
Laila Lalami explained how she based The Moor's Account on a true story of the first black explorer of America. However, his life and account of his experience is erased from history. Thus, the book is classified as a fictional account of a Moroccan slave brought to the United States on a Spanish expedition. Lalami explained that most the book is fiction, as she identifies as a fiction writer. Yet, she heavily researched and set the novel in locations and timelines within the constraints of history. Broadly, the book raises issues of how history is recorded, such as whose stories are told, and whose are silenced. Lalami wrote the book as a story of storytelling including the myth making around exploration.
In terms of her writing process, Lalami explained how she approached creating the characters through their emotions. Once she obtained the facts of history of the main character, such as his religious education and home town, she began to fill in the gaps, interpreting history in ways that drove the novel forward.
Laila Lalami gave advice for young writers, and the entirety of the publishing process. She encourages young writers in the classes she teaches at University of California, Riverside to read a lot before they begin writing. She encouraged several of the young aspiring writers in the room to be aware of the pressures of the marketplace, as she is, yet to be persistent in their writing because it only takes one publisher to listen and say yes.
There was also a discussion about how people in the news industry and elsewhere have had Lalami fill the role of speaking for the Muslim perspective. She gave several examples of some of her nonfiction work in several columns that were commissioned from a corporation to have her "give them the Muslim perspective." Lalami explained how those issues found her, noting that she did not set out to be a nonfiction writer, yet that aspect of her career has taken on a life of its own. When asked about the "good Muslim" versus "bad Muslim" dichotomy, she responded that we should be striving to complicate the image that Muslims are a homogeneous group. Although this work is exhausting at times for her, her work reflects complex characters for well-written novels for whom religion is just one factor of their character.
After her time at the Multicultural Center, Laila Lalami gave a public lecture at UCSB’s Campbell Hall attended by approximately 200 people. Here she spoke more in-depth about The Moor's Account. Audience members enjoyed a time for questions at the end of her talk.
To read a recent publication by Laila Lalami about immigration, border patrol and profiling, click here.
On Saturday, April 22, environmentalist and author Paul Hawken received the Environmental Hero Award from Santa Barbara's Community Environmental Council (CEC) at the Earth Day Festival. Each year the CEC honors someone who puts forth "efforts to educate, inspire and grow a new generation of environmental advocates and socially responsible citizens." The 2017 award was presented by Academy Award winner, Jeff Bridges, and Dr. Anthony Beebe, Santa Barbara City College President.
Paul Hawken was honored for his innovative global warming business and environmental solutions. After marching for science, thousands of people at the festival looked forward to hearing Paul Hawken speak, and celebrated his efforts in not only supporting peer reviewed science, but working toward lessening carbon emissions and global warming. Upon receiving the recognition, Paul Hawken encouraged people to read his book Drawdown, in hopes of providing a sense of urgency in working with the global warming crisis. People at the Earth Day celebration were filled with hope and joy, standing in solidarity with those around them as they celebrated our planet and the science advancements Paul Hawken explains to take care of the Earth.
At 8pm that evening, Paul Hawken gave an inspirational and informative talk at UCSB’s Campbell Hall, based on his manifesto, Drawdown focused on the global warming crisis. Many members of the Thematic Learning Initiative pre-reserved their free copy of the book before attending the event, and others were excited to join Arts & Lectures Thematic Learning Circles and receive a free book. Drawdown is the cumulative effort of about 70 research fellows, and 120 advisors over approximately 3 years to put forth what Paul Hawken explains is the only comprehensive plan to reduce carbon emissions and reverse global warming.
Paul Hawken began his talk by explaining how he approached creating the book. He told the audience members that at one point, after hearing people talk so much about global warming, he decided to act. He felt underwhelmed by Princeton University’s solutions and suggestions scientific agencies were giving individuals to help reverse climate change. As an example, he explained that suggesting people "move closer to work" was not enough to reverse what he described as the greatest crisis in human history: global warming. Hawken put out a call for people to work on the project with him. He was overwhelmed by the response of what he described to be extraordinary people sending in their resumes to be included on the project.
Paul Hawken then continued his talk by reviewing some of the solutions in his book, noting that "there are no blue bins in this book," meaning this book encourages people to do more than recycle. He explains that the imagery and wording in the book is chosen carefully to break clichés and make people feel like they are part of the solutions. Several of the solutions that Paul Hawken and his team found surprising and compelling are:
If this talk left you feeling inspired to take action, you can click here to sign up to march for climate change on Saturday, April 29th right here in Santa Barbara.
On May 20th at the Faulkner Gallery at the Santa Barbara City library, there was a small learning circle to follow up Paul Hawken's time in Santa Barbara. At this event, two expert speakers from the Community Environmental Council spoke about three main themes in Drawdown; food, energy and transportation. Speakers informed the audience about initiatives locally that coincided with the suggestions offered by Hawken's book. Audience members then had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the topic with one another. Many attendees shared personal stories of what they are doing in their own lives with respect to these themes to help draw down in Santa Barbara.
On Wednesday evening April 12, author Terry Tempest Williams was features as part of the Thematic Learning Initiative on her award winning book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks. This learning circle of about 40 people was held at the Orfalea Foundation Downtown Center in Santa Barbara. Attendees were affiliated with The Audubon Society, Los Padres Forest Watch, the Environmental Defense Center, Community Environmental Council, Channel Islands National park and the Sierra Club.
Terry is an author concerned with an ethical stance toward life including freedom of speech, environmental issues, and justice. During her talk, Terry described how she grew up focused on a single cause, and how it is now interactively connected with multiple issues. She also described how she hoped to bring others into the national conversation, such as young people who are responsive to acting on these topics. Attendees at her book discussion enjoyed asking a range of questions, and Terry responded about "finding your act in life and it will find you."
Key audience take-aways that Terry emphasized were ways to truly listen, and encouraging the audience to be curious, and finding true joy in nature. Attendees walked away from the Q&A feeling inspired to be: Awake. Alive. and Alert.
During his Santa Barbara residency last week, author Colson Whitehead held many events as part of the Thematic Learning Initiative, including learning circles expanding events for adult learners. Colton's time at UCSB began with a Q&A at the Santa Barbara library with a group of writers, moderated by Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle.
Next, Colson had a dinner with about 10 community members at the UCSB Mosher Alumni house. Here Colson and attendees had informal discussions about his book, and had the chance to get to know the author a little bit better in a small setting.
Following the dinner, Colson spoke at the main event in Campbell Hall where he told the audience about himself and his writing process and delivered captivating readings from his book. Throughout his presentation, Colson made the audience both laugh at his personal anecdotes and sit in silence while listening to difficult depictions of slave realities. Many audience members enjoyed asking questions and getting their books signed with a personal message from Colson.
On Thursday morning, Colson went to San Marcos high school to give an assembly with approximately 200 11th and 12th grade students in English an History classes about his award winning book, The Underground Railroad. Colson described the students as, "the best group of teenagers that I have talked to in my experience." He described how they asked smart questions about social topics they likely were confronting for the first time.
Colson then went to lead an interactive Q&A with about 30 people at UCSB's Multicultural Center.
Following his time at UCSB's Multicultural center, Colson had dinner with community advocates. Colson concluded his time in Santa Barbara with an learning circle event at the Santa Barbara library. Guests were invited to an interactive Q&A session about 200 community members, moderated by senior librarian Molly Wetta with Colson about The Underground Railroad. Many attendees were interested in the historical accuracy and inspiration for the book. Colson described how after having the idea for the book, he waited until he thought he had the maturity to approach the topic. Then he dove into the research on slavery to be rejuvenated and continue the writing process, but notes that this book is fiction and should be read as such. He described his book as similar to Gulliver's Travels in that each state in the book represented an alternate America and experience of slavery. With this sensitive topic, Colson explained that at times it is a difficult book to read and also to write, but the artistic process allowed him to write in a way that he could separate from difficult scenes and not be consumed by them. Lastly, Colson and attendees described the social implications of reading this book such as confronting his own bias writing from a female protagonist point of view, encouraging people to reckon with how slavery may have benefitted their family in the past, bringing up good points of discussion for families and kids, how racism and discrimination may still be occurring today, and developing empathy.
Just after finishing his time in Santa Barbara. Colson's book, The Underground Railroad, won a Pulitzer Prize! Read more about it here.