Centrum hosts author Sarah Vowell

Posted 4/2/21

As a New York Times’ bestselling author of American history, Sarah Vowell knows a lot about the past.

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Centrum hosts author Sarah Vowell


As a New York Times’ bestselling author of American history, Sarah Vowell knows a lot about the past.

But when it comes to the upcoming Communiversity event, the future, for her, is a little less clear. 

Find out what Vowell is like off-the-cuff at Centrum’s next Communiversity lecture on Monday, April 12.

When it comes to these question-and-answer style talks, Vowell expressed her appreciation for the format.

“I really like doing that format because it is spontaneous,” she said. “I have to think on my feet and it’s very conversational.”

Vowell said she always wants it to be a fun and engaging experience.

The author of seven nonfiction books on American history and culture, the renowned writer offers unique accounts of American history, as well as, current events and politics.

But her backstory is much more diverse; Vowell has a strong background in the arts and she helped run an arts education nonprofit for 10 years.

“I grew up a beneficiary of arts education and all that that provides a kid — discipline, camaraderie, goals, rules,” Vowell told The Leader.

“Even as a person who writes about politics and political history, one reason I started doing that is because I am from an arts background and I feel like the people covering politics or political history don’t have that background.

“It’s just kind of a way of seeing the world,” she added. “There’s all kinds of things about how an arts background influences how I view the economy, and certainly how I view education, and equality.”

Examining America’s storied past in one way or another, her books include “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” “Unfamiliar Fishes,” “The Wordy Shipmates”, and more.

Her columns have been featured in Salon.com, Time, and San Francisco Weekly. She also writes about American history, politics, education, and her life in Montana as a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times.

Vowell has made appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and now, Centrum’s Communiversity.

Created to bring artists together with learners of all ages, Communiversity is essentially an extension of what Centrum already does — only taking the organization outside the walls of Fort Worden State Park.

After the vast activities of summer and fall have faded on the calendar, Communiversity’s diverse programming sets out to engage the community into the winter months.

“The series is meant to be extremely broad,” said Robert Birman, Centrum’s executive director.

“The main thread that runs through all of these speakers is creativity.”

When it began in February 2020, it gained a great deal of success early on as an in-person program. The initial goal of the lecture series was to create culturally compelling conversations, facilitated by a speaker and a local moderator.

Then, like most things, it was forced onto an online platform as the pandemic took over.

But even with that hiccup, the first season of the lecture series continued in its success.

“We’ve had photographers; we’ve had authors; we’ve had journalists; we’ve had experts in aviation and birds,” Birman said. 

From a mushroom collecting expert to an authority on Indian classical music, “the whole idea is variety. We want it to be creative and eclectic and not predictable.”

“I’ve known Sarah mainly through public radio and always found her to be witty and intelligent,” Birman added of the upcoming speaker.

“She brings a different perspective on American history, which I appreciate.”

With Shelly Leavens of the Jefferson County Historical Society moderating the lecture, Birman said he was excited about the energy they’ll have together.

The moderator is a critical element to the series, Birman noted. “They’re able to ask the questions that the listeners want to know about.”

Potential talking points in the lecture could be anything from Vowell’s life, career, and recent work, to her favorite color and her creative process. At Communiversity, the possibilities are endless.

“It’s nice to have something on the calendar, even if it’s virtual,” Vowell said.

“I’ve spent the last 20 years as a kind of literary troubadour, traveling around America, talking to people about books and writing and history. All of that dried up a lot in the last year,” she added.

“I have missed it. I do miss the opportunity to take questions and think fast and engage with people from somewhere different.”

Find out how to tune in to the next installment of the Communiversity lecture series at centrum.org.


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