Chatham’s all-campus author of the 2014-2015 academic year, Jeanne Marie Laskas, came to Chatham to speak about her novel, “Hidden America,” on Tuesday, October 28.
“Hidden America” explores the lives of ordinary Americans with unglamorous jobs such as coal miners or truckers.
Laskas’ visit began with a Q&A session in the morning and a lunch with the Chatham Scholars, STEM students, and some faculty—including Dr. Heather McNaugher, who chose “Hidden America” as the all-campus novel.
Throughout the lunch, Laskas was engaging and intimate, answering questions and sharing personal stories—never mind that she described herself as shy.
Laskas mentioned that she finds her shyness ironic considering she makes a living writing about strangers. She added that going to interview strangers was awkward at first, “like a date.”
She also talked about her upcoming movie with the working title, “Concussion.” She spoke about her creative process and her important relationship with her editor, who she first met at GQ.
At 8 p.m., Laskas held a discussion and reading in Eddy Theatre. Dr. William Lenz, professor and Dean for Innovation, spoke first, describing “Hidden America” as, “a book that challenges our assumptions.”
Next, first years Katie Lee and Cassidy Colhoun introduced Laskas and described how “Hidden America” was relevant.
After her introduction, Laskas came out to read from and talk about her novel. She began by saying that she was impressed with the students she had met at lunch and how so many had a career path all planned out.
To those who were not prepared with career paths, she said, “I really was that student who said ‘I have no idea what I want to do with my life’“
Laskas explained that she believed she had either one of two choices: to do something that brought her absolute bliss (in her case, walking in the woods) or to do something ambitious. However, she admitted, “I can’t major in wood-walking.”
When it came to her inspiration for “Hidden America,” Laskas said there was, “this notion [she] had of people getting stuck,” in labor jobs. She kept asking about it and finally people told her to stop asking them how they got stuck because they chose their jobs and enjoy them.
Laskas then transitioned to talking about the people she wrote about who worked at a landfill. “Who would expect the place you would find that [satisfaction with one’s life] would be in a dump,” she said. She described her experience at the landfill as a spiritual one, seeing how happy they all were with their lives.
She then said that some of her best days as a writer are not the glamorous ones, but the ones where she gets to spend time with her family, go on walks, or do other ordinary things. “Chase that—chase your ideal day,” she said to the audience.
During the Q&A after the event, one particular question that came up was how Laskas managed to gain the trust of the people she wrote about.
In response, Laskas simply said, “I’m not investigating. I really want to know about their lives.”