Author shares own research experience during REACH Week

Mitchell Grogg

The keynote speaker for REACH Week read some of her own work to a crowd at WKU’s Van Meter Hall Wednesday and shared stories of the research that led to the books.

Hood River, Ore. graduate student Merrie Richardson was particularly interested in author Sarah Vowell’s speech. 

“I was interested in Sarah Vowell’s work because I had heard her on This American Life and I’m interested in getting to know more about her history,” Richardson said. “And she presents it in a very accessible way, a humorous way, so I just wanted to hear her speak live.”

In addition to her work on the Public Radio International program, Vowell has also contributed columns to The New York Times, and has worked as a columnist for and Time magazine, according to her agent’s website.

She read passages from Unfamiliar Fishes, a book chronicling the history of Hawaii Thursday night, in addition to other books.

One of the advantages of Vowell’s writing comes in its style, Lynn Minton, Manager of Marketing and Business Operations for WKU’s Office of Research, said. 

“She does it from a different perspective so it doesn’t look like you’re reading an academic journal.”

Vowell’s visit to campus also included a discussion with some students before her speech in Van Meter Hall. Paducah junior Sharon Leone, who attended the discussion, said reading Vowell’s work helped her gain perspective in her sociology major.

Leone also liked Vowell’s use of humor in her work.

“I was very excited to see a speaker about culture and American history and putting that into an entertaining sort of thing.”

To produce that entertainment, Vowell uses a variety of sources.

“However I can learn something, I will,” she said.

She also does not stick to a single method or type of source in her research, she said.

“Spaghetti against the wall—see what sticks,” she said. “I’ll do anything. I’ll read all the books. I’ll read the letters. I’ll go to the archives. I’ll interview the historians, the park rangers, the curators.”

She also said she did not feel she had a chance to see enough speakers on her campus when she was in college—and feels they’re valuable.

“Speaking at colleges and universities is really important to me because I went to a university myself and I just love speaking to students,” she said.

She also likes not knowing just who she is talking to in a college crowd.

“I just love the mystery of it,“ she said. “I go to these places. I don’t know how their lives turn out.”

And she enjoys a similar mystery as she performs her research.

“A lot of times I go in wanting to get one story and then I’ll talk to someone and they’ll completely change things for me,” she said. “I love when that happens, when I have my own little narrow-minded idea about something and then I read something or I talk to someone and they just blow the world wide open and they just make the world into a much more loveable place and just so much more interesting than the small minded view I had on any given subject.”