Concordia College kicked off its first ever author-in-residence program with a panel discussion featuring science writers Ed Yong and Suzanne Simard.
Yong, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for The Atlantic, appeared on the panel to speak about his book An Immense World. Yong’s work explores the different senses animals experience and their unique perceptions.
Simard, a professor in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, discussed her book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest” and the complex system through which forests thrive.
The author-in-residence event, moderated by former NPR correspondent and Cobber alumni John Ydstie, took place Thursday evening in the Centrum and saw a combination of students, faculty and the surrounding community in attendance.
The event opened with a few words of introduction from Concordia President William Craft, before Ydstie took over. Each author had twenty minutes to discuss their work, as well as their writing process, before moving to an open discussion in which Yong and Simard asked questions of each other.
During the event, both Yong and Simard discussed the danger animals and the environment are currently facing. Yong specifically called out sensory pollution with his work, and Simard put forth a call to action to protect the forests, and in turn ourselves, in the growing threat of climate change.
“We’re all connected,” said Simard. “We lose biodiversity every day… we need to protect it. It is essential that we change our world view because it is imperative for our survival as well.”
This sentiment was echoed by Yong, who described how humans have created a disconnect with nature, despite being surrounded by it constantly.
“One consequence is we’ve created this experience in nature that feels remote and distant and very separate from our lives. But of course, nature is right in our backyard,” said Yong.
Amelia Bjorklund, a junior at Concordia who attended the panel, said she was excited for the event because it was a rare opportunity.
“Both authors discussed topics that were relevant to my majors and minors and were just incredibly interesting speakers. Science writing isn’t a field I knew a lot about previously, so it was great getting to hear them describe their work and process,” Bjorklund said.
Laurie Probst and Philip Lemaster, who run the author-in-residence program, said it was intentional to have two authors who focus on science writing attend this year.
In the past, Concordia had been limited to authors who either won or were shortlisted for the National Book Award. With the cancellation of that program by the National Book Foundation, Probst and Lemaster had a broader range of options to choose from on who to ask to speak at Concordia.
Lemaster said having two science writers in attendance was a great way to connect with Concordia’s student body on a wider level.
“Science writing is really an expression of the liberal arts,” said Lemaster.
Probst said bringing science writers onto campus is also a great way to show students the opportunities and types of work that can exist for them after their time at Concordia.
“They (Simard and Yong) can be mentors and guides for us about how we want to engage with the world,” Probst said.
In addition to the panel, several classes also got to attend a masterclass with either Simard or Yong. There, students were given the opportunity to ask questions about the authors’ research, writing process, or what advice they would offer to students interested in their field of work.
“We want the students to have a chance to engage on a much more personal level,” said Probst. “It’s an ability to have a conversation with the authors.”
Probst and Lemaster wanted students and the surrounding community to benefit from the author-in-residence program as much as possible.
“I think it really helps students connect with what they’re doing … seeing the mission of the college and what they’re learning in their classes and how it transitions into the real world,” said Lemaster.
While the masterclass was available only to students, the panel Thursday evening was open to the broader community, where fans of Yong or Simard’s work were able to come see the two authors speak, as well as participate in a book signing that took place afterwards.
“It’s about sharing what we’re able to do here with our neighbors,” said Probst, when speaking of the benefits of the program.
Yong and Simard’s books were also assigned to a number of classes to read before the event took place in preparation.