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National Book Awards highlight female authors, relevant topics

Students, faculty, and community members filled the Centrum on Thursday, March 15, to hear from two National Book Awards finalists.

This year marked the 13th annual National Book Awards at Concordia. Since 2006, Concordia has been inviting National Book Award finalists and winners to campus each spring. This year, historical nonfiction authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Nancy MacLean came to campus to discuss their award-nominated books with National Public Radio correspondent and 1974 Concordia alum John Ydstie.

Senior Ali Froslie, who has regularly attended the National Book Awards events since coming to Concordia, was particularly excited about this year’s authors.

“It was really cool [to have] two awesome women professors who are writing important books … they’re a big deal,” Froslie said.

During the day, Dunbar and National Book Foundation’s executive director, Lisa Lucas, attended a meet and greet with English majors and minors. Dunbar and MacLean also held question-and-answer sessions on Friday to discuss the processes of writing their books.

“It’s cool that we get an opportunity to interact with [the authors] on a more personal level,” said senior Ellie Boese.

Scott Olsen, a Concordia English professor, and Tracy Moorhead, Concordia’s chief of staff, are in charge of deciding which National Book Award finalists are invited to campus each year. This year they chose Dunbar for her book “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge,” and MacLean for her book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.”

“There are a thousand issues that are going on with these two books right now that have particular relevance to the country as well as our community,” Olsen said.

“Never Caught” is a historical narrative on the hunting of one of George Washington’s slaves who managed to escape enslavement. “Democracy in Chains” 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.

During the Thursday night event, Ydstie asked each of the authors to talk a bit about their books as well as what it was like to write them. Both writers said that they stumbled across their subjects while doing other research. After coming across the name of the Washington’s runaway slave Ona Judge, Dunbar knew she had to write something.

“It became clear to me that I could use [Ona’s life] to tell multiple stories … this is history that everyone should have,” she said.

Dunbar said one of her driving goals was to “blow open why we have some of the myths we have about slavery” as well as “the myth that the North was free and the South was enslaved.”

While they shared excerpts from their books, it was easy to tell that each of the authors are extremely passionate about their subjects. MacLean’s vigor about the subject of the libertarian movement could be seen when she discussed the number of ways that the radical right has been working to put America’s democracy “in chains.”

Both Froslie and Bose enjoyed the night event.

“It’s cool to hear them read their work in their own voices, talking about the importance of what they write,” Froslie said.

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