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Chuck Klosterman at Lenoir-Rhyne: From Ethicist to Prophet?

December 8, 2015

I waited a couple of weeks before posting notes from our most recent speaker on Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Visiting Writers Series for the year, but part of what he said has been echoing with me since then.

I had heard of Chuck Klosterman, but I hadn’t ready his books before his visit.  How can you ignore an author with a title like Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs? Starting as a music critic (heavy metal, but hey–) right after college, he has gone on to write about popular culture. The bright side of writing about pop culture is, of course, that there is always new material; the danger is that by the time your book comes out, it has become a historical piece.

Even though he has a number of other books, Klosterman admits that not only did Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs outsell the rest of them, but it far outpaced his expectations. During the Q&A session, someone asked him about the dated nature of some of the material, and he said that lots of his younger readers admit that they read it with their phones so they can google unfamiliar references.

Since I’m always reminding (harping on) my writing students to be aware of audience, I was impressed that as a speaker, he did that so well.  The audience for the Thursday evening reading was — shall we say — an older crowd. The Hickory community turns out for these readings, often outnumbering students. Among the students at the evening readings, many are there for their convocation credits. I did overhear some girls talking about how much they loved to hear authors read, trailing off into a discussion of their own recent reading (music to my ears).

On Friday morning, he addressed a smaller group, primarily students, in Belk Centrum auditorium.  He came right out and asked how many had never read his books and were just there for credit. Several raised hands, and he smiled, admitted he thought so, and went on, quite comfortably.

That afternoon, he talked a bit about history, world events, and the matter of perspective.  Someone who had been alive, for instance, during the “Kent State Massacre” had more credibility on the subject than someone who had just read about it.  Likewise, for today’s college freshmen, Columbine and even 9/11 feel more like history than current events.

He zeroed in on the Internet, noting that when he was in college, he only knew two guys “on the worldwide web”– and they just used their email to send Batman logos back and forth to each other. He started a journalism career when Internet was expected to be a fad that wouldn’t catch on, much less replace typewriters. Oh well.

Then he told the students something will happen during their lives that will have such an impact that they’ll alway remember where they were when they heard it; they will remember life before it.

“When it happens, remember I said this,” he advised.

That afternoon, we turned on our televisions and discovered that Paris was under terrorist attack. I wonder how many of them remembered what had said.

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