University of Vermont

The Honors College

Zeltzerman Lecture - Anne Fadiman

Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down

Anne Fadiman is an author, essayist, editor, and teacher. A founding editor of the Library of Congress magazine Civilization, Fadiman also edited the venerable literary quarterly The American Scholar for 7 years. Her essays and articles, many of which have won National Magazine Awards, have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, among many other publications. She is perhaps most well known, though, for her award-winning book about the fraught relationship between a Lia Lee, a young Hmong child with a severe seizure disorder and Lia's American doctors, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. For the past two years, students in the first-year Honors College seminar, The Pursuit of Knowledge, have read this remarkable book and had some of the best discussions of the semester as they pondered the ethical, medical, and political issues the book presents. So it was with very great pleasure that the Honors College welcomed Fadiman to campus on February 23 as this year's Zeltzerman lecturer.

Present with us for a jam-packed day which included meeting with faculty from across the campus who regularly assign her book as required reading in their classes, answering student questions about her career as a writer in an Honors College class, delivering the Zeltzerman Lecture in which she spoke about her experience writing about the Lee family and her continuing relationship with them, and finally signing books for everyone in the long line of people that formed after the lecture, Fadiman also impressed everyone who met her as a person who cares very much about her students, even if they're hers for just two hours late on a Tuesday afternoon in February. Dana Walrath, a medical anthropologist in UVM's College of Medicine said of Anne's visit, "I loved Anne's take on the joys of teaching and the place of creative writing in academia during the fascinating lunchtime discussion. In her lecture, I especially appreciated Anne's ability to speak to people well versed in her work as well as to those who had never read her book." The students in the Honors College concurred, and added their appreciation for her added insight into the process of writing The Spirit Catches You as well as for her broader experience as a writer in general. Speaking directly and specifically to their own relatively near future as writers of undergraduate theses, Fadiman spoke of the students' need to follow their passion, to write about something that matters, that they love, and about the perseverance that any sustained project needs.

Margaret Atwood has famously said that reading a book and wanting to meet the author is like eating foie gras and wishing to meet the goose whose liver you've just consumed (and maybe that is the case with Margaret Atwood). But in the case of Anne Fadiman, the beautiful prose and remarkable equanimity she demonstrates in her book were absolutely matched by her generous and stimulating presence among us. To their experience of a deeply memorable book, this year's Honors College students can add a memorable visit with the author.

Last modified April 01 2010 03:59 PM