Now in its 15th year, The Bernard Hirsch Herman Memorial Lecture honors a thirteen-year Greenie and distinguished member of the Class of 2004 who had a love of writing and profound regard for the human experience. This event is a meaningful Newman tradition, with students benefitting from the insights of inspiring writers and innovative thinkers. It also allows students to connect with a diverse range of speakers and themes during their years in the Upper School.
We were thrilled to welcome this year’s Bernard Hirsch Herman Lecture Honoree, Dana Spiotta, to the Henson Auditorium. Spiotta is a prize-winning author, known for Wayward, a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of the Year; Innocents and Others (2016), winner of the St. Francis College Literary Prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Stone Arabia (2011), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Eat the Document (2006), which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the winner of the American Academy’s Rosenthal Foundation Award; and Lightning Field (2001), a New York Times Notable Book, among others.
After her opening speech, Spiotta shared stories and answered questions in a student-led panel conversation. While speaking with students, she also emphasized the importance of continuing to put pen to paper, and to pick up physical texts to devote time to reading, despite the reality of the engulfing digital age in which we all live.
With regard to the importance of writing, and pushing oneself to continue the practice, Spiotta remarked, “I think all of us should be pushed to write creatively, as it allows us to be seen and be heard. It also makes ways for connections whose vehicle is language which you, the writer, are in control of.”
“In the current climate, reading a novel is countercultural,” Spitotta added. “There’s a little purgatory to it, at least to start, but then it becomes immersive; it invites you to engage in something that’s been carefully revised and edited by another human. The completion of a narrative arc, the intimacy of being in the head of another person, these are all gifts that narrative fiction provides.”
Spiotta went on to emphasize that through writing, you have to be curious about other people and have to use empathy to describe their specific situations. It exposes a deeper part of each of us.
“As a writer, I urge you to ask yourself ‘What do I see in the world?’ and think about what you’ve learned and observed and be convincing in the way in which you describe it,” Spiotta said with conviction. “Writing helps you to make sense out of this complex world that we live in and helps you to reclaim back your part of it. You are the platform for your inventions, and you are in control.”
When students asked Spiotta about what is often the most cringe-worthy part of the writing process, the revision stage, she smirked.
“Don’t be afraid of revisions,” Spiotta loudly exclaimed. “Revision always seems to be troublesome for young writers and they don’t want to do it. I’m here to tell you that revision is the whole point. You have to write badly, and then revise your work, before it can get good. Make something the best you can make it in that moment and then move on to the next thing, and then onto the next. The biggest challenge as a writer is seeing what’s really there and what’s missing from the page.”
“I urge you to truly listen and be heard. In fact, I challenge you to do so. Reclaim. Revise. Truly be seen by your readers. They will appreciate your honesty,” Spiotta said.
We are grateful to The New Orleans Book Festival at Tulane University and the Herman family, all of whom worked to bring Dana Spiotta to Newman’s campus.