Posts tagged ‘Penn State Forum’

Fresh Memories of Vietnam

The annual Penn State Forum speaker series kicked off Wednesday with guest speaker Doug Bradley, a Vietnam vet turned professor and co-author of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War. Bradley talked about his experience and that of many of the vets he’s interviewed, played some of the classic songs of the era, and offered sometimes surprising context for how and why those songs so resonated with soldiers, both during and after the war.

Bradley’s appearance coincides with a flood of events and media, both nationally and at Penn State, marking 50 years since the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. WPSU is the driving force behind a multimedia project called A Time To Heal — The Vietnam War: Telling the Pennsylvania Story, a companion piece to the new Ken Burns documentary on PBS. The campus public broadcasting station is also sponsoring a visit by the Traveling Wall (pictured above), an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The wall will be on display at University Park Oct. 5-8.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor


September 21, 2017 at 9:50 am 2 comments

Margaret Atwood on Campus

Michael Berube handled the introduction, emphasizing his guest’s rare standing as a giant in both the fiction and non-fiction worlds—”not just an acclaimed and accomplished writer,” said Berube, the literature professor and director of Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, “but also a brilliant contemporary critic.” He went on, and one got the impression Berube could’ve talked about Margaret Atwood all afternoon.

AtwoodInstead, he ceded the stage to one of his literary heroes, a woman whose career seems to justify such a gushing intro. Atwood was in town this week to accept the IAH’s 2014 Medal for Distinguished Achievement. (You can read more about the award, and find a list of past winners, here.) She’s best known as a Booker Prize-winning author, but is much more than “just” a giant of modern literature: poet, children’s book author, environmentalist and, as she showed Wednesday, a dryly hilarious speaker.

Her speech was titled “Genre and Gender,” and it covered the history, evolution, and often complicated intersection of the two in literature both classic and obscure. I think I wasn’t alone in not always following exactly where Atwood was going, but I laughed a lot, and thought about more than a few things I’d never considered—for example, the gender themes in The Wizard of Oz, where all the “whole,” powerful characters are female, and the men are cowardly, unfeeling, brainless, or frauds. Like so much of Atwood’s writing, it was sharp, often funny, and nearly always compelling.

Her newest book, the novel MaddAddam, is the third in a trilogy that she described as “a fictional saga set in the near future, on this planet, and within the realm of possibility.” (The trilogy is set for an HBO adaptation.) Like much of her fiction, it’s described as dystopian, a mix both gloomy and funny of science fiction and science that’s perhaps not so fictional after all. It’s here, in the overlap of observation and speculation, especially about the environment, that Atwood’s work holds so much power. As she said Wednesday, she’s fond of posing (and answering) the question: “Do you really want to go there? If not, change the road.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm Leave a comment

A Forum for Inspiration

One of the benefits of working at a huge, world-class university is being surrounded by smart, fascinating people who do important work. Another is how a place like Penn State draws smart, fascinating people from elsewhere to share their knowledge and experience—even if it’s just for an hour over lunch.

Ten or 12 times each academic year, the Penn State Forum Speaker Series does just that. I try to make a few of these each year, and since last fall, I’ve been fortunate to see three compelling speakers. What Pedro Noguera, Majora Carter, and Bob Zellner had in common was the ability to turn personal experience and insight into compelling stories; they also shared a first-person appreciation for the challenges faced by black Americans. Zellner, whose appearance was timed with the university’s celebration of Black History Month, might have been the most compelling of all.

Bob Zellner at the Penn State Forum Speaker Series. Courtesy of The Daily Collegian.

Bob Zellner at the Penn State Forum. Courtesy of The Daily Collegian.

Zellner is a long-time civil rights activist and author of the memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, which is set to be made into a Spike Lee film. A white man from the Deep South (his father and grandfather were Klansmen), Zellner was a college student when he interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks for—imagine this—a sociology class; he says Parks told him, “When you see something wrong, you have to do something. You can’t just study it forever.” Zellner took that advice, and in subsequent years, he was arrested, beaten, and—in one instance—nearly lynched for his efforts. In his Forum appearance, Zellner mixed humor with harrowing anecdotes, inspiring the packed house with those decades-old stories and challenging us with reminders that, from environmental issues to class inequality, social justice in all its forms is still very much a cause worth fighting for.

Last fall, Pedro Noguera and Majora Carter offered very different but related perspectives on social justice. Noguera, a professor at NYU, spoke about the education inequality at the root of longer-term economic and class divisions in American society—and how that inequality erodes the very foundation of democracy. Carter, meanwhile, specializes in urban revitalization, a cause close to the heart of the Bronx, N.Y. native. And while she’s not a Nittany Lion, she now boasts a very cool Penn State connection: She’s the host of the recently produced Penn State Public Media documentary Water Blues, Green Solutions.

Regardless of their own college connections, it’s nice to be able to count people like these as Penn Staters, if only for a day.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

February 20, 2014 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

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