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Mountains beyond Mountains author to speak September 1

Tracy Kidder
Tracy Kidder

As new students arrive at Case Western Reserve University full of idealism to change the world, they will learn a transformative lesson from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, who wrote Case's summer reading selection Mountains Beyond Mountains. Kidder will speak during Case's fall Convocation at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, September 1, in Severance Hall. The Convocation event—Case's annual event to mark the opening of school—is free and open to the public—although registration is required by visiting http://www.case.edu/convocation/.

In Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003), Kidder chronicles the compelling work of Dr. Paul Farmer, the founding director of Partners in Health—a nonprofit organization from Boston that has provided medical services to thousands of the world's sickest and poorest individuals. Farmer's determination to change the world's health is done one person at a time.

Kidder's appearance at Case comes days before the publication of his new book, My Detachment: A Memoir.

Kidder, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly for the past 30 years, logged thousands of miles with Farmer as he flew to medical hot spots around the globe as the doctor-anthropologist fought drug-resistant tuberculosis and obtained expensive HIV/AIDS drugs for third world clinics to curb the spread of these global epidemics.

Kidder first encountered Farmer while on assignment in Haiti for Atlantic Monthly, covering American soldiers sent to Haiti to maintain order during the country's re-democratization in 1994. In 1999, the writer set out to pen an article about the doctor to run in 2000 for The New Yorker. The story evolved into a book.

Farmer's idealism began while in college. As a medical student at Harvard School of Medicine, Farmer spent many weeks, working in rural Haiti where he treated patients instead of attending classes on campus at Harvard. His hands-on knowledge and experiential learning in the field created a new way of treating the poor by improving all facets of his patient's life from the individual's health to their living environment that contributed to their health conditions.

The Zanmi Lasante clinic overseen by Farmer in Haiti's village of Cange became an example for how better housing, clean water, food and medical services can change lives.

Tracy Kidder

The title of Kidder's book is from the Haitian saying that there is a mountain beyond the mountain, meaning one task follows another—as well as the rugged walks through mountainous Haitian countryside to visit patients with Farmer. For Farmer, it meant the sick continue to arrive at the clinic's doors for healing.

Many students wonder if they can change the world. Kidder's experiences with Farmer in their journeys across the globe reveal that no mountain-like obstacle—whether physical or financial—impeded Farmer, who has become an international leader and advocate for treatment of the global epidemics of HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.

During research for Mountains Beyond Mountains, Kidder flew innumerable times to Haiti with Farmer and accompanied him to Moscow and Siberia to observe TB conditions in Russian and Siberian prisons as well as to Peru, international AIDS conference in Cuba, Paris, Mexico, Boston and other destinations.

Kidder, who grew up in New York City, also attended Harvard like Farmer. After a tour of duty in Vietnam, Kidder earned his M.F.A. in writing from the University of Iowa where he participated in Iowa's famed Writers' Workshop.

In addition to the summer reading selection, Kidder is the author of The Soul of a New Machine (winner of the Pulitzer and the National Book Awards in 1982). He has also written House (1985), Among Schoolchildren (1989), Old Friends (1993) and Home Town (1999).

Book Selection

This is the fourth year that a committee of Case faculty, staff and students has chosen a book for summer reading that appeals to young adults, addresses issues relevant to new college students and has potential to ignite discussions across campus and during orientation. This year, the university included the additional stipulation that the author of the selected book had to be available to speak during convocation.

The book also is recommended reading for any Case student interested in submitting an essay for the Common Reading Essay Contest that explores issues related to the book.

All faculty members teaching in Case's SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship) first seminars received copies to encourage discussions centered on the topics found in the book. This fall, SAGES becomes the undergraduate general curriculum for all incoming first-year students, who will engaged in small seminar classes.

The selection committee received 65 suggestions for summer reading from students, faculty, staff and alumni. After reading 12 books rated "tops" among the suggested choices, the committee chose Kidder's book.

Runners up for the summer reading selection were Life of Pi by Yann Martell and Nickle and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, tied for second choice, followed by third-place tie between The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and Emperor of Air by Ethan Canin.

Serving on the selection committee were James McGuffin-Cawley and J. Adin Mann from engineering; Judith Oster, English department; Timothy Beal, religion department and Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities; Mano Singham, director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education (UCITE); Arthur Evenchik from the College of Arts and Sciences; Katherine Police from the Orientation Committee; Julie Amon from Undergraduate Studies; Gail Reese from University Libraries; Judith Olson-Fallon, Educational Services for Students; and the previous winners of the Common Reading Essay Contest.

 

About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work. http://www.case.edu.