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Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author

Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author

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Anthony Doerr was on a train to New York City to meet with his publisher in 2004, when the man riding in front of him lost his mind over a dropped cellphone call as they passed through a tunnel approaching Manhattan.

“I began asking myself, ‘How did we all get to the point where we take for granted that this technology will work?’” he explained years later to an Ohio Magazine writer. “I decided I wanted to tell a story set in a time when the magic of this kind of long-distance communication was not taken for granted—when hearing the voice of a stranger or loved one in your ear was magical….When I learned how Hitler and the entire Nazi party used it as a tool for propaganda, I knew I would set the novel in World War II.”

That novel, All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel (Scribner, 2014)—which took Doerr a decade to research and write—was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

The instant New York Times bestseller, which chronicles the parallel and eventually intersecting lives of two European children in World War II, has been chosen Case Western Reserve University’s 2016 common reading selection for first-year undergraduates.

The awarding Pulitzer committee described the work as “an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology.” And from The New Yorker: “A meditation on fate, free will and the way that, in wartime, small choices can have vast consequences.”

The novel made more than a dozen year-end lists, including Barnes & Noble, Slate.com, NPR’s Fresh Air, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Kirkus, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor.

“Not only is it a beautifully written and engaging story,” said Timothy Beal, the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion, chair of the Department of Religious Studies and also of the common reading program. “It is also carefully researched, both in terms of social-historical context and in its engagement with radio technology and related sciences. We hope the book will appeal to students with a wide range of academic and personal interests and passions.”

Each year since 2002, the university’s common reading book serves as a basis for programs and discussions for first-year students from orientation through fall semester. Incoming students receive the book to read during the summer.

Doerr, who grew up in Novelty, Ohio, and graduated from University School in 1991, will discuss the book as the Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author/Common Reading Convocation Speaker during Fall Convocation—the official opening of the 2016-17 academic year—on Wed., Aug. 31 at 4:30 p.m. in Severance Hall. The event is open to the public, but reservations are recommended.

Watch Anthony Doerr discuss the foundation of his novel


About the author
Doerr, who lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and their twin sons, earned a bachelor's degree in history from Bowdoin College and a master of fine arts degree from Bowling Green State University. He has won numerous prizes, both in the United States and abroad, including four O. Henry Prizes, three Pushcart Prizes, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, the National Magazine Award for fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Story Prize. 

Photograph of Anthony Doerr by Todd Meier.  

2015: Claude Mason Steele

Dr. Claude Mason Steele's groundbreaking research addresses some of the most pressing contemporary problems in American society. His book, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, provokes readers to examine how they identify each other and themselves. Steele shares new research and insights about the power of stereotypes, often illustrating them with compelling stories involving young adults and college students. The book addresses not only race and racism, but also stereotypes of gender, sexuality and ethnicity.

2014: Barbara Natterson-Horowitz

For twenty years, cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz has treated human patients at the UCLA Medical Center, developed imaging techniques and lectured to thousands of medical students, residents, fellows, colleagues and community members. Currently she is cardiac consultant for the Los Angeles Zoo and a member of the Zoo's Medical Advisory Board as well as the Director of Imaging for the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center. Her outstanding rapport with students has won her numerous teaching awards and made her a popular professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA where she lectures about cardiovascular physiology, cardiovascular pharmacology, echocardiography and bioengineering. Her writing has appeared in many scientific and medical publications. Her bestselling book, Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health was chosen as Case Western Reserve University's 2014 common reading selection. 

2013: Susan Cain

Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking has sparked a genuine national conversation about introverts, who comprise a third to a half of every workplace and classroom, and whose natural talents we can no longer afford to waste. Quiet is an instant New York Times bestseller, has been translated into 30 languages, and is one of the most talked about books of 2012.

2012: William Kamkwamba

William Kamkwamba co-wrote the New York Times best-seller The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. The story chronicles how the now 25-year-old Kamkwamba brought electricity and the promise of a better life to his family and village in Malawi. Kamkwamba is currently a student at Dartmouth College. His story has been featured in The Wall Street Journal as well as on Good Morning America, The Daily Show, CSPAN Book-TV and NPR. A 2007 TED Global Fellow, he has spoken at multiple TED conferences, addressed audiences at the 2008 World Economic Forum, and spoken at schools and universities around the world.

2011: Michael Sandel

Harvard professor Michael Sandel explores the moral ideas behind the world’s most controversial issues in his popular lectures and books, including his latest book, the New York Times best seller Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? His undergraduate course in political philosophy, Justice, regularly attracts more than 1,000 students and is the first Harvard course to be made freely available online and on public television.

2010: Elizabeth Royte

Acclaimed author and environmental journalist Elizabeth Royte is the author of Bottlemania and Garbage Land. A former Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow and recipient of Bard College's John Dewey Award for Distinguished Public Service, Royte's writing on science and the environment has appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Outside, New York Times Magazine and other national publications.

2009: Greg Mortenson

‌Mortenson is the co-founder of Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit that builds rural schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Pennies For Peace, which connects 2,700 American schools with struggling students abroad. He co-authored Time Magazine’s Asia Book of the Year, Three Cups of Tea, which remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than 100 weeks, with six months at the No. 1 spot.‌

2008: David Quammen

‌Quammen is a science journalist, nonfiction author and (former) novelist who has spent most of his life in Montana. He travels on assignment for various magazines, usually to jungles, deserts or swamps. His accustomed beat is the world of field biology ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation, though he also occasionally writes about travel, history and outdoor sports.

2007: President Barbara R. Snyder

‌Barbara R. Snyder, who began her academic career in higher education in the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, was elected president of Case Western Reserve in December 2006 and began her tenure as the first woman to hold the office on July 1, 2007. Her official investiture ceremony as president was part of the university's fall convocation in 2007.

2006: Michael Ruhlman

‌Ruhlman was born in 1963. He grew up in Ohio and graduated from the University School in Cleveland in 1981. He is a chef himself and has written a number of books dealing with food and cooking. A writer of nonfiction books, he also focuses on the search for perfection in a number of different fields and crafts.

2005: Tracy Kidder

Kidder was born in New York City in 1945 and attended Harvard College, where he earned an AB in 1967. He served as first lieutenant in Vietnam and was awarded a bronze star. After his tour of duty, Kidder obtained an MFA from the University of Iowa, where he participated in the Writers' Workshop, a program known for the literary luster of both its staff and alumni. His writing has been prolific and outstanding, earning a Pulitzer and a National Book Award in 1982 and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1989.

2004: Helen Thomas

Thomas defined the way modern reporters cover presidents, from the glowing months of John F. Kennedy's Camelot, through the dark years of Watergate, all the way up to the dawn of the new millennium and the Internet age. A Hearst newspaper columnist who served for 57 years as a correspondent for United Press International and White House bureau chief, Thomas reached the White House by sheer will: she marched into the press room on Kennedy’s Inauguration Day and never left. And it was during this first White House assignment that Helen began closing presidential press conferences with "Thank you, Mr. President."

2003: Oliver Sacks, MD

Sacks, dubbed the “poet laureate of medicine” is an explorer of the human mind. A physician and scientist, he has made a career of probing into the most puzzling, troubling—and extraordinary—corners of neurology. His work describing and treating patients suffering from conditions ranging from color blindness to Tourette’s syndrome has generated valuable insight into the human brain and its limitless capacity for adaptation. Dr. Sacks has written nine books on his life and work, including the international bestsellers Awakenings and The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.