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On Thursday evening, Feb. 15, renowned author Emily St. John Mandel joined University of Wisconsin-Parkside professors Jonathan Shailor, communication, and Lisa Kornetsky, theatre arts, for a panel discussion about Mandel’s 2014 novel “Station Eleven.” Her keynote address and discussion that followed kicked off this year’s Big Read event.
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and a National Book Award Finalist, “Station Eleven” takes you on a journey of a post-apocalypse world of people who survived a flu pandemic that wiped out majority of the earth’s population, sending society into a chaotic panic.
The evening began with an amazing performance by the Parkside Range, singing “4 Minutes” by Madonna, and “Talking to the Moon” by Bruno Mars. UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford welcomed the audience of more than 500 to the UW-Parkside Main Stage Theater, and joked about how next year’s Big Read keynote might need to be held in the Sports & Activity Center given the large turnout.
Hundreds of audience members watched and listened as Mandel went into a deep discussion about the behind-the-scenes work of “Station Eleven,” and her life after writing it. Mandel said that one of the most intriguing responses to the book was seeing the “survival is insufficient” tattoo four times in her life after one of the characters in the book had the tattoo.
She went into depth about how she came up with the theme of “Station Eleven.” “I think it’s tempting to think about the things you would want to change about the world, if you could somehow rebuild it from scratch” she said, “And there’s probably an argument to be made that that’s partly why post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction has been such a trend in the last decade or so.”
As Mandel, Shailor, and Kornetsky discussed more themes from the novel, Mandel said, “Don’t you feel like we always think society’s falling apart? It’s kind of an interesting part of your psyche.”
Professor Shailor asked if Mandel could read a few pages from the book. She went straight to chapter 6, and captured the audience with her evoking tone of voice. Molly Moore, associate development specialist at UW-Parkside said, “I got chills when Emily read the book aloud. The emphasis she placed on certain words and phrases helped me recognize how she intended this section to be read.” Moore also elaborated on her overall experience at the keynote event. “I think what made the event a success was the insightful and thought-provoking questions the facilitators asked. I’d never thought of some of their questions, and Emily provided such detailed answers, that I walked away wanting to read the book all over again!”
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read event seeks to broaden people’s understanding of the world, different communities, and one’s own self through the joy of sharing a good book. Each year, the Big Read showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives. The NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery amongst people in the community.
So far, the Big Read event is starting off with a bang. For a complete list of Big Read events click here.
Writer’s note: I haven’t started the novel yet, but after sitting in on the panel discussion, attending the self-defense class on Friday, and looking over the different events associated with the Big Read, I am highly intrigued, and can’t wait to get lost in a post-apocalyptic world.