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  • Meet the Author series introduces many prominent authors to Brandeis community

    By Ben Sacks
    October 3, 2008
    Section: Features


    Four and a half years ago, Brandeis Media Relations and Communications staff members Dennis Nealon and Lorna Miles came up with a simple idea: bring authors to Brandeis to discuss their works, and make the events free of charge to attendants.

    A little planning culminated in the first of scores of successful events, a talk by Professor David Hackett Fischer (HIST) in February 2004 on his book Washington’s Crossing. Since then, over 40 authors, many of them well known, have come to Brandeis to discuss the books they have written.

    The Meet the Author series, according to Nealon, was created in order to fill a missing element of the Brandeis experience. “The university lacked a real stage, a showcase that would befit the literary community that [Brandeis] is,” he stated. “We started it as a way to bring people together to talk about books. We are trying to interest students as much as we can.”

    Meet the Author events include a reading or discussion by the author on a featured book, followed by a question and answer session and a book signing. Oftentimes, the featured book becomes available at a highly discounted rate through the Brandeis bookstore.

    Topics covered range from “history to politics to autobiographies to anything,” said Nealon. “The talks really are all over in terms of subject matter, with some intellectual challenge built in. We want [these events] to be thought provoking and fun.”

    Featured authors make their presentations free of charge. “It’s a trade,” explained Nealon. “We’re giving an author a spotlight for their book at one of the top universities in the country, and in return, the authors are giving us their time and their insights.”

    Students have a say as to who is invited to speak, and virtually no speakers have turned down an offer. Past Meet the Author events have highlighted such authors as Pulitzer Prize winners Sophie Freud ’70 (granddaughter of Sigmund Freud), David Oshinsky and Professor Fischer. Just last week, the program hosted renowned scholar and statesman Itamar Rabinovich and expects more great speakers in the near future, including Professor Alison Bass ’75 (AMST) on Oct. 29 , author of Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial.

    At first, the series was held in the Shapiro Campus Center atrium in order to draw attention to itself and provide an open market feel, whereby passerby on their way somewhere could stop and attend for as long as they wanted Events were held at lunch time, so that people could take a break in the middle of their days to hear the day’s speaker. However, the setup was more of a nuisance that a convenience.

    “We wanted the hustle and bustle around us,” said Nealon. “It was a terrific venue, but authors found it difficult to concentrate, they couldn’t hear themselves think.”

    Since then, Nealon and Miles have experimented with various times and locations on campus. “I think that the student body is very much behind the program, but everyone is very busy,” Nealon said.

    Nevertheless, turnouts have been decent, with audiences ranging from approximately 25 to 300 people. “60 is the right amount for the feel of a proper crowd,” stated Nealon. “Any time our events have less, they feel under-attended and I feel badly that people missed a really good opportunity to meet with people who create books out of their work and their thoughts. These are people that are sharing their lives’ work.”

    The total cost of an event is just a few dollars. Since speakers come for free and Brandeis venues are free as well, the total cost of an event may be the cost of producing promotional posters. “We’re working on literally less than a shoestring budget,” Nealon noted.

    It’s a win-win situation, in his view. “[The idea] is beautiful in its simplicity, and who doesn’t like books?” It’s a very popular program.

    Nealon and Miles are proud of their accomplishment, as they feel the Meet The Author series has truly added value to the Brandeis community.

    “How perfect is it?” Nealon asked rhetorically. “At Brandeis, you have a built- in audience of terrific young people who jump at the opportunity to spend time with someone whose life’s work has been put into a book.”

    Students interested in learning more about the Meet The Author series should contact Dennis Nealon at nealon@brandeis.edu, or Lorna Miles, lorna@brandeis.edu.


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