LA Times columnist discusses power of writing at Assembly Series lecture

| Contributing Reporter

A Los Angeles Times columnist encouraged listeners to express themselves without inhibition on Monday evening in her Assembly Series lecture.

Author, essayist and columnist Meghan Daum read from her book “The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion” during her lecture, which was titled “Truth in Writing.” She discussed the term “brave,” a term she said is often applied to her writing, and argued that writing frankly about her point of view is not courageous, simply a part of her job.

Author Meghan Daum reads from her 2014 book “The Unspeakable” in Hillman Hall on Monday evening. Daum has writen for many magazines and is an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times.AB Brooks | Student Life

Author Meghan Daum reads from her 2014 book “The Unspeakable” in Hillman Hall on Monday evening. Daum has writen for many magazines and is an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times.

Daum is experienced with voicing her opinion candidly; she has written four books and recently edited a fifth, and has been an opinion columnist at The Los Angeles Times for the past 10 years.

“For me, one of the biggest taboos in our culture is that every sort of crisis we go through has to be redemptive somehow, that we have to learn from our experience or become a better person,” Daum said.

Daum shared an example of her writing with a personal passage concerning what she called the almost anticlimactic death of her mother.

“I wrote many, many drafts of this essay and finally was only able to finish it, because I decided I would never ever publish it—that it would just be for me,” Daum said. “And I ended up showing it to a couple friends, and they were like, ‘Well the problem is, it’s the best thing you’ve ever wrote,’ so, you know, what are you going to do.”

Yet, Daum rejected the word “brave” that readers frequently apply to her writing. Instead, she argued that it is a writer’s duty to challenge the constraints of our culture and, instead, invite the reader to think alongside the author.

“Brave is for bungee jumping or getting over your fear of spiders or facing cancer or kicking an addiction,” Daum said. “Expressing ourselves, especially when we’re in the business of doing so, is something else entirely. It’s participating in the conversation. It’s recognizing that asking a reader to sit down and read something we wrote is actually asking quite a lot, and therefore we need to give them something that’s worth their time.”

For freshman Izabella Pastrana, Daum did indeed accomplish this goal. Pastrana came to the lecture after being provoked to think critically by Daum.

“This morning…I was checking my email and I read something of hers about how…you can go through a traumatic experience and you don’t necessarily have to change, and that’s just a cultural kind of expectation,” Pastrana said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I agree with that,’ and that’s why I wanted to come and hear her speak.”

Karen Fields, director service to the University for the Woman’s Club of WU, also emphasized Daum’s ability to make an impact on her readers.

“I’m really anxious to read [the rest of the] chapter [she read aloud], because I know that it will bring a lot of meaning to me and a lot of memories to me,” Fields said.

Daum is an adjunct associate professor in the MFA Writing Program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Fields also mentioned Daum’s ability to make a difference in the lives of young writers and said she believed Daum was a great choice for the Assembly Series.

“I think she connects with students very, very well and encourages them to go forward in whatever vocation they choose,” Fields said. “I liked her subtle sense of humor, her directness, her enthusiasm. She’s a neat lady. She’s going to go far.”

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