This week, authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Nancy MacLean will join host John Ydstie, a 1974 Concordia alum and National Public Radio correspondent, at Concordia College for the 13th annual National Book Awards at Concordia event.
“We decided as a liberal arts college that one of the best things we can do every year is to celebrate the intelligent life of the country. The National Book Awards, no matter what genre, is a way to recognize the very best work that is being produced in this country this year,” Scott Olsen said.
Since 2006, Concordia has been inviting National Book Award finalists and winners to campus each spring. The college partnered with the National Book Foundation to create a “National Book Awards on Campus” program. Many students, including junior Prashansha Maharjan, look forward to the event every year.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for book lovers on campus to get to know a book they’ve read on a deeper level,” Maharjan said.
The two National Book Awards finalists, Dunbar and MacLean, will be in the Centrum on Thursday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m. for an evening of readings and conversation, with Ydstie moderating. The authors will also visit classes and attend question-and-answer sessions during their two-day residency at Concordia.
“I think these books take us beyond the classroom and make us look at issues and happenings that we may never have encountered in our everyday textbooks,” Maharjan said.
Olsen and Tracy Moorhead, chief of staff at Concordia, are in charge of deciding which National Book Award finalists to invite to campus. Each November, they attend the National Book Awards for the ceremony announcing the winners. It is there that they decide which authors to invite to Concordia in the spring.
“All of them are already acclaimed as wonderful writers … we are looking for people who are engaging personalities, who have topics that we think would light up the campus,” Olsen said. “We’re looking for people who would be most exciting to bring to this particular community.”
Dunbar is a Charles and Mary Beard Professor at Rutgers University, where she teaches history. She is a National Book award finalist in the nonfiction category for her book “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge,” a historical narrative on the hunting of one of George Washington’s slaves who managed to escape enslavement.
Olsen assigned “Never Caught” as required reading for several of his English courses this semester.
“It is an old story with very contemporary implications and themes,” Olsen said.
Senior Peri Lapp was required to read it for her nonfiction writing seminar, taught by Olsen.
“I really enjoyed ‘Never Caught.’ It is a book with a twist on history that kept my attention throughout my reading of it,” Lapp said.
MacLean is an American historian as well as professor at Duke University. She was also a finalist in the nonfiction category for her book, “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” The book is about the libertarian movement’s plot to change the rules of democratic government, a plan that was designed over 60 years as an attempt to give more to and preserve the power of the white elite.
“Certainly ‘Democracy in Chains’ is part of every day’s evening news around here. I think it is a remarkable expose of the history behind the libertarian movement and its insidious arrival in American politics,” Olsen said.
Olsen looks forward to this year’s National Book Awards event, and he is not alone.
“It is so cool to be able to hear from the creators behind the content and see that they are real, authentic people,” Lapp said. “Not only is this event entertaining, but it is also educational.”